Can Mobile/Virtual Work Transform the Business of Congress?

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This topic contains 13 replies, has 7 voices, and was last updated by  Terrence Hill 7 years, 6 months ago.

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  • #179352

    David B. Grinberg

    Last week, a bi-partisan Resolution was introduced in the House of Representatives “that would allow members of Congress to vote remotely on bills from their home districts,” according to a news report by The Hill.

    • “Rep. Eric Swalwell’s (D-Calif.) proposal for a mobile Congress would amend House rules so lawmakers can take care of business using the latest communication technologies, including video conferencing,” according to The Hill.

    • “Swalwell, who at 32 is one of the youngest members of Congress, introduced the resolution along with Reps. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) and Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.).”

    • In a statement, Rep. Swalwell pointed out: “Companies and families across the country are using technology to communicate remotely. There is no reason that the legislative branch of the world’s oldest democracy cannot do the same. Our bill will allow Members of Congress to work more efficiently and stay better connected to our constituents. It’s time to upgrade Congress to the 21st century.”


    1) Do you support or oppose remote/virtual work for Congress? Why or why not?

    2) Would this improve legislative productivity, efficiency, effectiveness and enhance citizen engagement?

    3) In short, would remote/virtual work radically transform the way Congress does business?

    Also check out:

    Telework in Trouble? Why Mandatory Implementation is Needed Now

    How to Make Telework Actually Work Gov-wide

    Work-Life Balance: Can Female Feds “Have It All”?


    * All views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only.

  • #179378

    Terrence Hill

    This is a great idea whose time has come! It will do more to encourage all Federal workers to explore remote working than any other piece of legislation. In fact, it may open up the possibility of all of us voting remotely. This will expand the democratic process and result in more efficiency. Not sure about effectiveness because that is more of a political issue.

    I don’t think that it will radically transform Congress, but it is a small step in the right direction. It should result in more “work” being conducted and some savings in travel expenses, not only for members of Congress, but those who are called to testify.

  • #179376

    David B. Grinberg

    I agree, Terry. Congress can set a real life example for feds not only through legislative action, but also by personally engaging in remote work on a regular basis.

    Less cost, more productivity, greater work-life balance, and let’s not forget all the environmental benefits. Plus, fewer K Street corporate lobbyists foaming at the mouth for votes.

    Congress needs to spend less time in Washington, and more time with the citizens who elected them in the first place. Such direct and sustained citizen engagement by lawmakers will only enhance the democratic process — and, hopefully, rebuild the public trust.

    As the late and great House Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill used to say: All politics is local.

  • #179374

    David B. Grinberg

    More from yesterday’s Next.Gov “Wired Workplace” column:

    • A resolution introduced by two House lawmakers last week would allow members of Congress to become teleworkers. The Members Operating to Be Innovative and Link Everyone (MOBILE) resolution (H. Res. 287), introduced last week by Reps. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., and Steve Pearce, R-N.M., would enable lawmakers to participate in committee hearings and vote on non-controversial suspension bills from their home districts using video-conferencing technology and a secure, remote voting system.

    • More specifically, the MOBILE resolution would require that lawmakers and invited witnesses be allowed to participate in committee hearings remotely, with that participation counting toward rules on quorum. It also would require the development of a secure remote voting system that would enable lawmakers to vote on suspension bills, generally non-controversial bills that require a two-thirds majority to pass.

    • The federal government is leading the trend on telework adoption, with all agencies required to implement telework policies as part of the 2010 Telework Enhancement Act. While enabling members of Congress to work from their homes would be inappropriate, allowing them to participate in votes on non-controversial bills and in hearings from their home district offices doesn’t sound like much of a stretch, particularly if it leads to cost savings and productivity gains.

    • “Imagine the opportunity to discuss key legislation with your representative even minutes before he votes on it, or watch committee debate conducted in a town-hall setting from your hometown,” Pearce said.

  • #179372

    Henry Brown

    Agree with both you and Terry but… Figure there is about a snow ball chance in Hades of something like this being implemented. For at least a couple of reasons…(I apologize for my cynicism up front)

    1. This would actually enable the politicians to be able to accomplish something with minimal influence from K Street.

    2. I believe that a significant percentage of Congress are classic Luddites and they would go into somewhat of a panic having to rely on technology to accomplish their job

    Perhaps a small first step might be to implement/allow voting electronically from within/inside the congress “network”

  • #179370

    Henry Brown

    Sorta related… During one of the debates over cancelling the Health Care Act, my congressman was able to set up a teleconference with any and all (well sorta) of his constitutions and “we” were able to voice our opinions, hopefully to let the congressman vote in a manner that agreed with a majority of the voters in his district

  • #179368

    Henry Brown

    Wonder why would think that enabling members of Congress to work from their homes would be inappropriate

  • #179366

    Peter Sperry

    Members of Congress, personal staff and committees have used most of these tools for as long as they have been availble. Conference calls between DC, the home district and other remote locations were common place 40 years ago. Teleconferencing , including remote testimony by committee witnesses, has been in use for at least 15 years. Go-To-Meeting, Skype etc are all well known and used frequently by members and staff. Tele-townhalls, complete with interactive questions have almost replaced live events for some members. So this proposal really offers very little new functionality; but could encourage even greater use of existing capabilities.

    Currently members of the House vote electronically on the Floor and by voice vote in committee. The system used is pretty satandard in most legislatures, including state and foriegn bodies. It has been abused, but very rarely. The only case I can recall is a Pennsylvania state rep who collected voting cards from absent members and cast votes for them when they were not in Harrisburg. Actually not a bad track record given the potential for ghost voting. A more secure system using biometric identifiers could be developed to allow members to vote from anywhere with a secure internet connection.

    The impact would depend on how highly members value real human contact and with whom. Most already arrive in DC 30 to 90 minutes befor the first vote of the week (or urgently call staff to have them beg leadership to hold the vote open while they speed down I-95) and leave DC as soon as possible after the last vote of the week. Given the opportunity to vote from their districts, many members would never show up in DC at all.

    Taken to the extreme, greater use of telecommunications could actually impact the staff much more than the members. Most legislative and policy staff are located in DC rather than the district. Their personal interactions with each other and with the dreaded lobbyists (like Seirra Club, Move On, Catholic Bishops, AFL-CIO, ACLU etc) are often more extensive than those of the members. Staff tend to highly value these conections; but not as much as face time with the boss. Many of them would welcome the opportunity to spend more time in the district. Many members could also decide they want their policy staff to be based in the district rather than in Washington. Committee might also be able to hire from a larger talent pool if staff could work remotely. And moving the policy staff out of Washington would probably have more impact on the culture of Congress than allowing members even more time at home.

    Of course, all of this would only work with the House of Representatives. The Senate has only recently gotten beyond wearing togas on the floor and remains uncomfortable with new fangled 19th century innovations, let alone anything from the 21st.

  • #179364

    David B. Grinberg

    Good point, Henry.

    If nothing else, lawmakers can work from one of their multiple home district offices. This would still be better than working from DC’s toxic, non-partisan and arguably corrupt political environment with national/global corporate lobbyists bucking the system via legislative loopholes and big money donations for votes.

    The more time spent by Congressmen and women at the grassroots levels — and away from DC — the better for citizens and voters everywhere. Too many citizens don’t vote because they feel alienated from the political process. Perhaps a greater Congressional presence among the people may change that for the better.

  • #179362

    David, I missed reading this. Thanks for resending it. I would support this remote/virtual work
    arrangement for Congress. I do believe members of Congress can vote remotely and should be called to DC for strategic legislative meetings or decisions which cannot be accomplished in a meaningful way via the virtual arrangement. I do think members of Congress should stay local and engaged closely with their constituents. It should work well. Also, this is a great way to reduce the budget deficit too since members of Congress will receive locality pay for that state. If you think of operating in time of national crisis, the virtual or remote working arrangement is an excellent way to remain operational. I do think the whole Federal government should push harder for telework/virtual/remote work arrangement for all executive, legislative and judicial branches. Putting officials and employees closer to their home town is a great way to balance work and personal obligations, to support and engage more effectively with local community, to strengthen local economy, and to effectively respond to professional responsibilities in case of national crisis. These are some of the thoughts I have on this issue!

  • #179360

    David B. Grinberg

    Excellent points, Phuong, as usual!

    I think eventually digital/mobile technology will catch up with all branches of gov but it will take a while. Old habits die hard. Bureaucracies usually have to be dragged kicking and screaming to adopt any systemic institutional change. Meanwhile, the private sector remains leaps and bounds ahead of gov.

    Thanks again for sharing your unique insights, Phuong, which are very much appreciated.

  • #179358

    Carol Kruse

    I, too, missed this when first posted — thank you for sending me the link, David. Benefits of a “teleworking Congress” are clear — as are some of the implementation challenges. I was not aware of the Swalwell bill–it hasn’t been deemed newsworthy, apparently!

    I believe we keep electing the delegates because they come across as normal when they’re in their home districts…it’s when they get caught up in the Capitol Hill environment that they seem to lose their compass and lose touch with the majority of their constituents. So, take them out of that environment. Maybe they’ll remain the people we elected, or perhaps we’ll learn that the person we elected isn’t real and elect someone else next time.

    I cannot agree with Peter more, that moving the staffers out of Washington would have more impact on the culture of Congress than moving the members themselves. I had my eyes opened when a friend became a staffer, but I don’t know how widely it’s known that the staffers probably have more influence on how our Congressional members vote than does the Congressional member’s own thinking or values that got them elected. The staff do the research, are often the target of the lobbyists’ attention, and recommend which way their member should vote. Who the Senator or Representative is can change in any election, but the staff largely remain, educating the new official to “how things work,” who they need to listen to the most, etc. As the permanent “residents,” they are the keepers and conveyors of the culture.

    I agree with everything you, Terry, Henry, Peter, and Phuong have said, and I cannot tell you how excited and heartened I am that this conversation is taking place! It may be a small start, but so is an acorn compared to a giant oak tree!

  • #179356

    David B. Grinberg

    If we can’t get Washington out of Congress and their staffs, then let’s got Congress and their staffs out of Washington — and back to their home districts via leveraging the latest mobile/digital technologies.

    While this proposal is practical and probably popular, I would not expect any movement on the current bills any time soon.

    Congress is one the most entrenched and staid institutions in all of government. But, on a lighter note, eventually new and evolving mobile/digital technologies will be adopted by government across the board, including Congress, as the old wave of bureaucratic stalwarts move on and a new generation takes over.

    Just don’t hold your breath waiting on this to happen.

  • #179354

    Steve Ressler

    +1 for remote voting.

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