Rep. Eric Swalwell is tired of flying cross-country for work. Therefore, he has sponsored a bill to change the way Congress does business. Rather than have him and his colleagues show up for every vote and committee hearing, he wants to be allowed to telecommute from his East Bay district.
We are not opposed to the concept of remote attendance. Santa Rosa residents saw such a system at the local level recently. After Vice Mayor Erin Carlstrom gave birth to a son on Oct. 5, she wanted to spend some time with her baby. So the City Council allowed her to participate in a council meeting from home. That was an appropriate, limited exception granted under unique circumstances.
Swalwell, however, seeks a broad policy to let him stay home during the dull stretches of lawmaking. That the nation's capital lies on the East Coast is an inconvenient historical accident, at least for those of us who live on the other side of the country. Our representatives and senators — not to mention lobbyists and school children — must undertake long journeys to engage in the federal seat of government. Swalwell claims to have logged 250,000 miles flying this year.
It's not as bad as it used to be. Nevertheless, as anyone who has flown commercially in recent years knows, it is not a lot of fun.
Swalwell's “Members Operating to Be Innovative and Link Everyone” (MOBILE) resolution would amend House rules to allow representatives to participate in hearings by videoconference and cast secure votes on uncontroversial bills like renaming post offices from afar. He suggests that if virtual meetings work for high-tech companies, they should work for government, too.
The precise technology to make all that happen would be figured out later, but those details matter now. When Carlstrom connected via speakerphone to the council meeting, her audio was sometimes choppy. Council members and staff had to ask her to repeat herself.