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26 Mar, 2013 16:44

Congress wants to go virtual

Congress wants to go virtual

A US congressman last week introduced a resolution that would establish a “virtual Congress” – a legislature in which lawmakers could work remotely and ‘telecommute’ to Washington using nothing more than a computer.

New Mexico Rep. Steve Pearce first introduced the idea in Nov. 2010, but lawmakers initially rejected the idea. But the legislator is determined to pass the resolution and has brought it back to the House, arguing that it would allow representatives to be closer to constituents by working and living in their home states.

The resolution was assigned to a congressional committee on March 21, which will decide whether to pass it on the House or Senate floor for a vote. Although the bill is unpopular, Pearce believes that evolving technology has made telecommuting easier than ever and that a “virtual Congress” lies in the inevitable future.

“Thanks to modern technology, members of Congress can debate, vote and carry out their constitutional duties without having to leave the accountability and personal contact of their congressional districts,” he told The Hill Newspaper. “Keeping legislators closer to the people we represent would pull back Washington’s curtain and allow constituents to see and feel, first-hand, their government at work."

In 2010, Pearce complained that citizens across the US have ‘little-to-no-input’ on legislation that is debated on in Washington, since lawmakers are so inaccessible and rarely in their home offices.  He believes that keeping legislators in their home states and districts would “pull back Washington’s curtain and allow constituents to see and feel, first-hand, their government at work.”

Voting could be done from lawmakers’ home states, and they would only need to travel to Washington for the few occasions that there is an important meeting or reception to attend. Pearce claims that this would save US taxpayers significant sums of money, since lawmakers would rarely be traveling.

“Members of Congress would report to Washington for debate and votes on critical bills and bills that pass a certain threshold of spending. Other occasions that warrant they be present in person would be to attend the annual State of the Union or receive addresses by foreign heads of state and other significant events,” he said in 2010.

Pearce also argues that lawmakers would be safer working from home, since terrorists and ‘evildoers’ would no longer view an empty Congress as a potential target.

Even though Pearce’s measure hopes to establish a more convenient work environment, the resolution has received significant criticism from lawmakers who believe in-person meetings and votes are important. Critics of the 113th Congress argue that a main reason for lack of achievement is that representatives lack direct personal contact and often don’t know each other.

“I know many times I would look up on TV and I would see somebody and then the name would come up and it would say ‘member of Congress’ and I’d go ‘I don’t even know who that is,’” former congressman Connie Mack told CNN in January 2013.

Rather than send representatives home to work virtually, critics of Pearce’s resolution believe that the problem needs to be addressed by bringing them together more often.

And despite the ease of telecommuting to work in the Internet era, a number of large tech companies have recently announced that in-person interactions would yield greater achievements. In February, Yahoo! announced that all of its telecommuters would have to start coming into an office starting this June. Earlier this month, Best Buy said it would no longer allow any of its corporate employees to work remotely.

Overall, telecommuting is becoming more common in the US. But Pearce’s resolution has a slim chance of making it to the floor for a vote: GovTrack.us, a site that tracks legislation and monitors its popularity, believes the committee will not approve Pearce’s idea. Only 27 percent of House simple resolutions make it past the committee. With no cosponsors and a history of failure, it appears that Congress is not quite ready to start having virtual conversations.