Will Federal Lawmakers Start Working From Home?

Two lawmakers have introduced a resolution that enables Congress members to vote and participate in committee hearings via the Internet.

by / February 19, 2015
U.S. lawmakers are pushing for a resolution that enables them to virtually attend meetings held in Washington, D.C., potentially making a packed floor such as this a thing of the past. Flickr/NASA HQ Photo/Bill Ingalls

Whether you call it “working remote,” or “virtual commuting,” the practice of fulfilling professional responsibilities from somewhere other than the office has expanded in recent years. And now, federal lawmakers want in on the action.

Reps. Steve Pearce, R-N.M.; and Eric Swalwell, D-Calif.; have introduced a resolution enabling and encouraging members of the U.S. House of Representatives to attend committee meetings online instead of traveling to Washington, D.C., House Resolution 83 directs the Committee on House Administration to look into virtual meeting best practices and establish rules and procedures for legislators to telecommute.

In an email to Government Technology, Swalwell explained that his goal isn’t for lawmakers to spend less time in Washington, but to spend more quality time in the nation’s capital.

“Rather than spending valuable time debating suspensions that are generally noncontroversial, we can vote on suspensions remotely and focus more on the issues Americans most want us to address: the economy, national security and safeguarding American values,” Swalwell said.

Daniel Castro, senior analyst with the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, thinks the proposal makes sense and is long overdue. He said he believes that politicians on the West Coast shouldn’t have to be in Washington to cast a vote and spend so much time away from their home states.

In addition, Castro said he felt the resolution could bring about more unity between lawmakers and the people they represent.

“This might lead to constituents feeling better connected to their elected officials, more support for Congress – where approval levels are [dismal] – and ultimately better policymaking,” Castro said.

Playing devil’s advocate, Castro noted that one concern he sees with members of Congress spending less time in Washington is that they might not form good working relationships with colleagues, which could lead to further partisan gridlock.

If H.R. 83 is adopted, Castro suggested it could be time for a revised congressional schedule that mandates certain dates when legislators must be in attendance.

Swalwell didn’t dismiss the idea, and admitted the schedule could allow for more flexibility. But any changes to the schedule are up to Speaker of the House John Boehner, a Republican who represents Ohio’s 8th congressional district.

This isn’t Swalwell’s first attempt to modernize Congress with technology. During the last Congress, he introduced H.R. 287, the Members Operating to Be Innovative and Link Everyone (MOBILE) Resolution. Like H.R. 83, the Mobile Resolution would have enabled members of Congress to participate and vote in committee hearings remotely. But the proposal failed to move forward.

“While I don’t expect to change Congress overnight," Swalwell said, "I will continue to press the issue and hope over time these common sense technological reforms will be adopted."

Brian Heaton

Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology magazine from 2011 to mid-2015.