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Should Congress Telecommute? 213

Posted by timothy
from the virtual-personal-assistant-spam-convinced-him dept.
schwit1 writes "Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) wants to create a 'virtual Congress,' where lawmakers would leverage videoconferencing and other remote work technology to conduct their daily duties in Washington from their home districts. Under a resolution Pearce introduced on Thursday, lawmakers would be able to hold hearings, debate and vote on legislation virtually from their district offices. The big loser would be the DC area and K Street in particular. The change would also be a double-edged sword for security."
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Should Congress Telecommute?

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  • Yes! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 24, 2013 @11:16AM (#43263037)
    And then President Marissa Mayer should fire them for not working.
    • by Nidi62 (1525137)
      They don't work now, so why not? I mean hell, the Senate just passed a budget for the first time in how many years?
      • Re:Yes! (Score:5, Interesting)

        by camg188 (932324) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @01:07PM (#43263679)
        If it decreases the influence of lobbyists, then yes.
        • by nospam007 (722110) *

          "If it decreases the influence of lobbyists, then yes."

          And they can filibuster while lying on the couch at home, nice.

          • Given the stability of the internet in some areas, it might make filibuster tactics a lot harder, or at least less reliable.

      • by flyneye (84093)

        I think they should KEEP them in D.C. outside their Constitutional rights. Yeah, keep them there for 30 days or however long residency is established then hold them to Federal law without constitutional rights. Make them go to work everyday and establish regular hours with vacation starting after you've been there 4 years if you last that long.Make them educate themselves on the issues and care about their constituency or face fines. Charge them for every word of law they write. Make it expensive too. Lock

  • Why not? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Das Auge (597142) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @11:19AM (#43263069)
    Sure... Why not? They can work from the offices of the corporations and special interest groups that actually fund their decisions.
    • Re:Why not? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ArsonSmith (13997) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @11:21AM (#43263083) Journal

      On the other hand those offices and corporations wouldn't have a single spot to send all their lobbyists too any more.

      • Re:Why not? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 24, 2013 @11:26AM (#43263115)

        I wasn't real thrilled with the idea at first due to concerns around the integrity of the system, but then I imagined them working from a remote town hall and surrounded by their constituants instead of their peers and lobbyies. I think it could do great things for establishing accountability.

        • I think it could do great things for establishing accountability.

          Dream on. The problem with "accountability" isn't that they are in Washington - it's that most people don't pay attention except to campaign and part spin, and otherwise don't really care so long as their district gets the bacon.

        • but then I imagined them working from a remote town hall and surrounded by their constituants instead of their peers and lobbyies

          Never having to leave their 'one viewpoint', 'no compromise required', gerrymandered home district will surely increase their awareness of others, empathy towards others, and enhance that necessary ability to find common ground and compromise when legislating.

          Clearly one of congress' biggest problems until now has been that members are entirely too familiar with each other and each other's constituents and that extreme familiarity is what breeds all of this contention that keeps them from getting anything

          • by Jubedgy (319420)

            On the other hand, my elected representative was elected to represent MY (and my neighbors') interests, not the interests of bleeding heart liberals in NY. If by "increasing their awareness of others, empathy towards others" they stop representing my and my neighbors' interests, they will not be re-elected.

            Put another way, their power derives from consent of the governed. If they lose that consent by legislating in a way counter to their constituents' wishes, they will not remain in power. Even if it mea

            • my elected representative was elected to represent MY (and my neighbors') interests

              So, when you and your neighbor's 'interests' don't coincide, who are they representing? (Of course, I'm sure that never happens) :-)

        • by westlake (615356)

          I wasn't real thrilled with the idea at first due to concerns around the integrity of the system, but then I imagined them working from a remote town hall and surrounded by their constituants instead of their peers and lobbyies. I think it could do great things for establishing accountability.

          The congressman, surprisingly enough, likes the visibility of having offices in the bigger and more politically potent cities and suburbs in his district. This is where his district's major employers, economic and political interests are centered.

          This is where the lobbyist draws his strength.

          The whole point of having a national capital is to encourage your representatives to take a wider view of things.

          • "The whole point of having a national capital is to encourage your representatives to take a wider view of things."
            I thought the whole point was to have a single point where all the reps (or whoever) could go and meet each other. Because, you know, most of human history has been without the sorts of ICT that makes telecommuting possible.
            How's a legislature supposed to operate without everyone in one place? Well, the answer, now, but not for most of the existence of legislatures, is ICT.

            Also, because a repre

        • by sl4shd0rk (755837)

          but then I imagined them working from a remote town hall and surrounded by their constituants

          Yes, especially if those town halls and constituents are in barbados, or tahiti. IT people working remotely is a whole different ball of wax than a bunch of politicians already suspect of corruption.

        • I wasn't real thrilled with the idea at first due to concerns around the integrity of the system, but then I imagined them working from a remote town hall and surrounded by their constituents instead of their peers and lobbyies. I think it could do great things for establishing accountability.

          You wouldn't want them skyping in from their random porn-browsing PCs or anything like that; but if you can't get a fixed-function videoconferencing link and VPN appliance setup for each congresscritter for a relatively modest amount of money(by enterprise IT standards) the state of network security is so fucked that we have deeper problems. Plus, a substantial percentage of congressional activity is banal shit that ends up being televised on CSPAN anyway. If they occasionally have to fly in for a session i

        • by fikx (704101)
          Or working from their large expensive homes with government purchased expensive teleconference equipment connected through government purchased custom private lines to government purchased electronic conference rooms and telepresence equipment.
      • Sadly i don't think this will have the effect you hope.

        Every reasonably large corporation has lobbyists for various regions to track and lobby state governments. They would just beef this portion of the lobbying arm up.

        Smaller entities that don't run lobbying organizations of that scale would be the ones that lose influence, which really isn't the desired effect.

      • On the other hand those offices and corporations wouldn't have a single spot to send all their lobbyists too any more.

        The lobbyists will just start teleconferencing too. They will probably pass a law to make illegal to record any of those sessions and we'll be back to square one.

        Lobbying just has such a huge ROI that a little change in physical distribution of the targets will be nothing more than the most minor of speedbumps

        • by ArsonSmith (13997)

          still a minor speedbump is better than the current drag strip that is K street.

      • by fluffy99 (870997)

        On the other hand those offices and corporations wouldn't have a single spot to send all their lobbyists too any more.

        Yes, that does reduce access to lobbyists, but also to other congress staff, voters, executive staff etc. Most congressional influence doesn't happen with face-face lobbyist time anyway. It's done with discreet campaign contributions after filtered and laundered through.other indirect channels.

        I do encourage more use of VTCs and teleconferencing because congressional travel expenses are excessive. If we're being told to VTC instead of travel at the working level (even for technical stuff that requires ha

    • Re:Why not? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by AK Marc (707885) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @03:31PM (#43264621)
      If you don't have to show up, it removes most of the logistical issues that prevent regular people from serving. So the "fix" to government is to have a senate that looks like the house, and a house that is made up of 1,000,000 Americans representing local areas of 300-400 people each. The legislation from the house can be written like drunken ramblings, and the "bill" would be re-written in the Senate to resemble the existing laws. The Senate would be a sanity check on the mob, but reduced in power. 3/5 majority for anything to pass out of the house, and anyone with a 0% pass rate after 10 submissions loses the right to submit for the remainder of his term, but the people he represents can hold a re-election to fill the seat.

      If we are going to move to the information age, we might as well continue this "great experiment" as an experiment.
  • What?! Doing nothing AND wanking the whole day?
    • You would see obscenity laws and digital copyright laws revoked in record time.... And then congress would do nothing ever again.

      Perfect!

      Maybe not perfect, but better than them eroding rights and raising taxes....

      • by khallow (566160)

        You would see obscenity laws and digital copyright laws revoked in record time....

        For Congress. They've made plenty of exceptions for themselves. The rest of us would have the usual law.

  • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@hacki s h . o rg> on Sunday March 24, 2013 @11:29AM (#43263129)

    One justification for Congressional salaries is that they have to pay for a 2nd home in D.C. They also get taxpayer-funded travel between their home districts at DC, averaging >$2m per member of Congress. Are these expenses going to actually be cut if they move towards telecommuting?

    • My first thought is that TVs are cheap, so this shouldn't cost much.

      My second thought is that my school spent tens of thousands of dollars on a fancy video conference equipped meeting room. Sure it had all the bells and whistles, like a second camera in the ceiling that can be moved and zoomed to look at individual documents from above, but still that's tens of thousands of dollars.

      On the other hand, it's a drop in the bucket compared to what they normally spend. I just hope they don't drop all this money

    • It may cut down on their travel expenses... but likely only to levels seen before congress adopted a "business in the middle of the week" schedule.

      They already have a hard time communicating and working together. If anything, they should be forced to live in close quarters and deal with each other until they can learn to get along like adults.

      • by Trepidity (597)

        If anything, they should be forced to live in close quarters and deal with each other until they can learn to get along like adults.

        Perhaps a budget conclave? Two votes a day, and send black or white smoke up the Capitol chimney to communicate whether we have a budget yet or not.

        • by penix1 (722987) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @04:25PM (#43264929) Homepage

          Everyone harps on about the Congressional budget. It is a document that means absolutely nothing. It doesn't have to be voted on by the house, signed by the president nothing. It is a wish list only. The House, Senate and Presidential budgets mean zilch. They are solely used to beat up the others with politically. It isn't like the budgets set around the kitchen table at home.

          And while we are on the subject, if you have any debt whatsoever, you are running at a deficit. I argue there isn't a household in America that isn't running a deficit. Mortgages, credit cards, bank loans, student loans, etc are all deficit spending. The only difference is the size of income vs. deficit and the fact that every 6 months Congress goes through the pain of having to couple the spending they already did with the artificial boundary they setup known as the debt ceiling.

          Today's Congress lives on crisis of their own making. And the effect on the very real economy is devastating. Everything from the current sequester to the debt ceiling is of their own doing. It is little wonder their popularity ratings are in the single digits.

  • by russotto (537200) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @11:32AM (#43263145) Journal

    This proposal fails to account for deals cut in smoke-filled back rooms (smoke-free back rooms for younger Democrats). Since most of what matters in government happens in such places, and they can't be replaced with teleconferencing for various reasons, this proposal won't work.

    • by hedwards (940851)

      Of course they can be replaced with telecommuting and conference calling.

      Ultimately, as a resident of WA, I'm in favor of this, the capital being located where it is, makes it incredibly inconvenient for me to observe what goes on there or meet with my members of congress. With this, I'd at least know that most of the time they're in the same state as I am and can more easily contact them.

      • Ultimately, as a resident of WA, I'm in favor of this, the capital being located where it is, makes it incredibly inconvenient for me to observe what goes on there or meet with my members of congress.

        If they can meet with their peers electronically, why can't you/we do the same?
        • by hedwards (940851)

          Scheduling is why, because things are done EST and EDT as appropriate, they're finished for the day hours before we get out of work, at least if the politicians were in their home districts, there would be a bit more pressure to have things scheduled appropriately..

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I could swear 80% of them are just phoning it in.

  • by smpoole7 (1467717) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @11:44AM (#43263205) Homepage

    I've got mod points, but I don't care. This is one of my hot buttons. :)

    1. Senators and representatives would be closer to their actual constituents. There's at least a slightly improved chance that they'll actually vote the way the people who elected them want.

    2. It wouldn't save a lot of money on the grand scale, but it would be a useful symbol to cut the costs (heating, cooling, transportation) of clustering all the morons in Washington.

    2-1/2 - it would make it more difficult for lobbyists to buy an entire block of votes. This would force the LOBBYISTS to sink tons of money into travel to visit each Congresscritter. It's a beautiful thing. :)

    2-3/4: LOCAL news media would have better access to the Congresscritters, and if we're really lucky, they could watch the 'critter's local headquarters and report on who came and left that day -- including the aforementioned lobbyists. No large parking lots or hallways to more easily become "lost" in.

    3. We have the technology to make it secure. Video conferencing could replace endless meetings. AND SPEECHES. Man, getting rid of the speeches alone would be worth it.

    4. The really dumb ones wouldn't know how to vote electronically or attend the video conferences, acting as a natural selection effect on dumb votes!

    Who knows? We might actually (OK, I'm dreaming now) elect people with brains, who would at least be required to know how to write and operate a computer, instead of blowhards who are elected simply because they know how to speak well in front of a camera.

    Do it. I'm all for it.

    • I agree, it would be an improvement for most of the reasons you listed. But also consider that the current form of government reflects the technological state of society (communications, travel, etc.) at the time it was formed. The subsequent advancements in technology ought to be reflecting an advancement of what the form of governance itself looks like.

    • Isn't teleconferencing all about speaking in front of a camera?

    • As long as it's properly transparent.

      You can watch quite a bit of congress on CSPAN. It's mind numbingly boring most days, but you can watch it. (Mainly because all of the interesting stuff is done via back room deals.) I just hope that I can watch the teleconferenced stuff as easily, if not easier.

      I'd also love for most of it to be recorded. I know it wont (thanks Nixon), but it would be awesome.

    • 2-1/2 - it would make it more difficult for lobbyists to buy an entire block of votes. This would force the LOBBYISTS to sink tons of money into travel to visit each Congresscritter. It's a beautiful thing. :)

      So the interests with less money will fade away and only the richest and most powerful lobbyists will be able to continue to exert their influence?

    • by webdog314 (960286)

      Well, you make the assumption that lobbyists won't use telecommuting to speak to them from Washington (or wherever) instead of visiting them in person. They'll be able to have a completely private and secure (read unrecorded or unmonitored) session with their respective purchased Congressman and no one will ever know. Park your local media outside the office all you want. They're not going to see anything.

      • by AK Marc (707885)
        It's hard to slip them a bag of cash over the VC link, and faxing the cash doesn't work out so well.
    • by tlambert (566799)

      5. You could MITM the votes, rather than relying on Deibold to do it.

    • by westlake (615356)

      1. Senators and representatives would be closer to their actual constituents. There's at least a slightly improved chance that they'll actually vote the way the people who elected them want.

      Look closely at a man's home district and you can almost always predict way he will vote. There are very few surprises. The geek doesn't want to hear that because the decisions the Congress makes almost never go his way.

      2-1/2 - it would make it more difficult for lobbyists to buy an entire block of votes. This would force the LOBBYISTS to sink tons of money into travel to visit each Congresscritter.

      You don't get out much, do you?

      The lobbyist already has a presence in your Congressman's home district.

      He's been there from the beginning, lobbying state and local governments. In the old days, before the direct election of the Senate, he would often be appointed to the Senate. The Senator

    • I agree with all these points. +1

      The Senate would never do it but I thihnk it would be good for representative democracy for the House to do it.

  • Videoconferencing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MpVpRb (1423381) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @11:45AM (#43263213)
    Anybody who thinks videoconferencing is good must not have spent much time videoconferencing
    • I've done it enough to know that it can be done well. Just sink enough money into it. And you'll still save money on airfares, private jets, 2nd houses, etc.

    • by AK Marc (707885)
      I have. The biggest issue with it in today's age is content sharing. You can't pass a note across the table, or bring up a power-point seamlessly. How do I take someone else's document they want me to look at, read it and mark it up in realtime, then slide it across the table back to them? But for talking-heads and feeling like you are in the room, many seem to do ok. web-cam VCs suck because one of the good things about a call is that you can ignore the person on the other end, doing something else wh
  • by magic maverick (2615475) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @11:51AM (#43263241) Homepage Journal

    And not only parliaments and similar, but also the various international gatherings, like the G20, APEC, and similar. Think of all the money that is spent on security at these big international conferences, protecting some of the scum (floats to the top) from the protesters. You could spend that money upgrading telecommunication links, invest in some really good videoconferencing stuff, and go.

    And it would work just as well for parliaments and congresses. The same argument for upgrading telecommunications links, which should go down well in rural areas. It would reduce the number of fist fights (one of the few downsides), get rid of heckling (the speaker can simply refuse to let a person's microphone be live) and so on. It would save a silly amount of money on airfares, 2nd houses etc. It would also reduce the amount of influence lobbyists have, as they can't just spend a day going and seeing six different people (30 in a week). They would actually have to fly or otherwise travel to each home district.

    Now, someone is thinking, but the real business gets done in the corridors, not in the actual meetings. And? All those lackeys can just get on the phone and talk to each other that way. It might even reduce the number of laws passed!

    Really I can't think of a major downside (OK, it does make it harder to bomb them all and thus wipe them all out at once).

  • Filibuster how? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Pitawg (85077) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @12:06PM (#43263315)

    This will give the old ones in power a means of censoring or silencing unpopular (to them anyways,) rants from either the other side of the aisle or freshmen seats. "He is not following Majority Rules! Cut that guy's feed!" C-SPAN cannot even keep a feed coming during "public" events, and you think this will change?

    This is just adding a new power to those in charge that would directly effect our governing. A switch to silence instead of a gavel and pleading.

  • No way (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Waffle Iron (339739) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @12:16PM (#43263375)

    They already spend too much time in their home districts. Jet air travel allows them to constantly return to their home base, where they get constant earfuls of whining from their gerrymandered constituents (whatever the political slant of the particular district). So they pop back briefly into DC to work with colleagues who they now barely know, and with no motivation to compromise on *anything*.

    Hence, nothing gets accomplished, least of all steering this country away from financial crises.

    Presumably, this country was set up as a republic for a reason. One of those would be for the members of congress to actually spend time working together, for the good of the country as a whole.

    Now, if they want to improve how congress works, it would be better to pass a constitutional amendment prohibiting *lobbyists* from interacting with members of congress in person. Trackable email and video calls only.

    • by richg74 (650636)
      Agreed -- this is a Really Bad idea. Yes, we have some cool technology, but human nature doesn't automatically and instantly adjust. We've evolved to know, more or less, how to work in face-to-face interactions. If you think video links, or other E-interactions are just as good, think about the people who have, say, virtual girlfriends that they've never met. And the parent poster is also right: there are reasons that the country is a republic. Direct democracy is not necessarily all sweetness and ligh
    • by Dahamma (304068)

      Wait, so you think the problem is that legislators spend too MUCH time in their home districts listening to the opinions of the people who they were elected to represent? There are many things wrong with the current federal government (for example, blind partisanism and special interest lobbying, as you said) but trying to understand the most important issues in your home district/state and listening to your constituents should never be considered one of them.

      And actually, the reason the country was set u

      • but trying to understand the most important issues in your home district/state and listening to your constituents should never be considered one of them.

        Why not? With the current gerrymandered districts, it's not hard to figure out exactly what the majority of constituents in each one think that they want. That's the easy part.

        The hard part is for congress to come up with some kind of common national plan of action rather than deadlock. That would generally require each member of congress to spend *less* time holed up in their own echo chambers and *more* time thinking about the country as a whole.

        • by Dahamma (304068)

          Why not? With the current gerrymandered districts, it's not hard to figure out exactly what the majority of constituents in each one think that they want. That's the easy part.

          No, it's really the easy part, and hasn't been for a long time. Think about it - when this system was created one representative represented about 50,000 citizens. Now that number is about 700,000 (and for Senators, up to about 15 million). These citizens are not homogenous no matter how badly you think things are gerrymandered (which is not nearly as much as you seem to believe, and in fact is totally irrelevant to the Senate).

          The hard part is for congress to come up with some kind of common national pl

          • These citizens are not homogenous no matter how badly you think things are gerrymandered

            Irrelevant. All they have to listen to is the subset of people in their own district who comprise more than 50% of voters who actually show up. They can and do totally ignore all other viewpoints. Districts have been carefully engineered to ensure that situation exists.

            The Senate is indeed somewhat less affected by this, but there are still plenty of states that are solidly on one side or the other. Given that it effectively takes a 60% supermajority to get anything done in the Senate, they end up being no

  • That would be fun to watch.

  • Aren't Congressional sessions open to the public anyway? They can still get together physically for backroom deals or whatever.

  • There are various portions of the Constitution that mention the house location and what defines a session. So you would have to make some changes to the Constitution to get this to work or just claim it is a "Living Document" and go and do it.
  • Absolutely NOT (Score:4, Interesting)

    by WindBourne (631190) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @01:14PM (#43263731) Journal
    These ppl need to meet each other and learn to trust the other guy.
    In fact, 3 nights a week, these ppl should be required to dine with each other.
    It is the insane attitudes towards each other that is causing them to not compromise.
    • by guttentag (313541)

      These ppl need to meet each other and learn to trust the other guy.

      In fact, 3 nights a week, these ppl should be required to dine with each other.

      It is the insane attitudes towards each other that is causing them to not compromise.

      Interesting idea. We could make sessions of congress like summer camp. They could hang out in a secluded, mountain location (say, Camp David), living in bunks of 6-8 people, with no lobbyists, cell-phones or Internet-connected devices. They would participate in supervised group activities, playing wheelchair basketball, swimming in the lake and shooting skeet with Obama by day. They'd eat three FDA-approved meals together in the mess hall and make their own beds every morning. Half-way through the session,

  • A telecommuting, decentralized Congress would make life for all those "poor" lobbyists much more difficult. They'll have to travel to all kinds of weird States they never heard before to deliver their corruption^Wcampaign money to Congresspeople, instead of having them all in one nice place inside the Beltway. Won't anybody please think of the lobbyists?!
    • by mjwalshe (1680392)
      not it would be easier to fix deals away from the spotlight of the Washington Village. as John Betjeman says
      I do some mild developing. The sort of place I need

      Is a quiet country market town that's rather run to seed

      A luncheon and a drink or two, a little savoir faire -

      I fix the Planning Officer, the Town Clerk and the Mayor.

  • ... they lack adult supervision. So how could it get worse?

  • by Dr. Spork (142693) on Sunday March 24, 2013 @01:55PM (#43263925)

    One problem with our congress is that they don't like each other and they don't have much incentive to get to know each other. If they were to never actually meet one another, that would only make things worse.

    I would much rather have Congress work more like a game show, in which a congressional session lasts two months and takes place on a jungle island where the reps have to cooperate or die. When not in session, they could be in their home districts or whatever. For the same reason why juries can't produce just rulings if they're not sequestered together, Congress should be forced to hash out their business while sequestered. They could still have contact to their aids and research staff, but on the island, it would just be them, wild boars, and the occasional helicopter bringing food, beer and medicine.

    A telecommuting congress is pretty much exactly the opposite of what would help.

  • by tsotha (720379)

    The big loser would be the DC area and K Street in particular.

    Not hardly. K Street will just start telecommuting too.

  • 200 years ago, the common, simple folk toiled in the fields all day while their better, nobler representatives gathered to discuss important issues in a far off city. This was the best way to self-govern based on the communication technology that was available: screaming at each other face-to-face in a capitol building. Since then, communication has come a long way. We have things such as email, phones, text, blogs, video, etc. So, now these "representatives" want to tele-commute? You bet! Maybe even
  • Polatics is not a fracking desk job a lot of politicking goes on both inside and outside the chambers - would you want your senator congressman to miss some pork for you home state because of his.

    Mr Pearce seems to be "away with the faeries" as they say in Scotland - some needs to arrange a recall vote asap he doesn't seem capable of representing his constituents.
    • I want all pork to be missed.

      • by mjwalshe (1680392)
        Well true but lets not ask for the moon on a stick - you'd have to totally revisit the issue of states rights and radically reign your local government which has gotten totally out of hand.

        Applying the one question at a time might be a start - to stop the adding of riders to unrelated bills as would independent speakers for House and Congress ala the Uk
  • If congress can stage DDOS attacks [wikipedia.org] against itself, why shouldn't it add telecommuting to its repertoire?

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