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Government Videoconferencing: From Novelty to Necessity

November 27, 2012 | Telepresence Options

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President Barack Obama and members of his staff receive an update on Hurricane Sandy via teleconference. (Photo: Pete Souza - White House via CNP)

By John Moore, FCW

In David Foster Wallace's 1996 novel "Infinite Jest," people find videoconferencing rather vexing. An entire cottage industry grows around surrogates -- 2-D cutouts, for instance -- that relieve the pressure of making an on-screen appearance.

Sixteen years later, video communication no longer inspires dread among people who have grown accustomed to Skype and other readily available services. Industry executives say people increasingly expect to have such tools available at work as well. That's probably a good development for the government sector because even camera-shy employees might need to embrace videoconferencing now that agencies are exploring greater use of the technology as a cost-saving tool.

Why it matters

Federal agencies are being pressured to reel in travel budgets and limit conference expenses, particularly in the aftermath of the General Services Administration's Las Vegas conference scandal. In April, the Office of Management and Budget required agencies to cut travel spending by 30 percent and called for greater conference oversight.

Against this backdrop, virtual meetings offer an alternative to holding a conference in real life. Some government entities now actively encourage videoconferencing. A Defense Department memo sent in September calls for decision-makers to consider videoconferencing before giving the green light to traditional conferences. The memo states that "approval authorities must...consider alternative means of delivering the relevant information, including usage of remote collaboration tools" such as videoconferencing.

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