GSA installing 15 telepresence sites

Tools

The General Services Administration began installing a telepresence solution May 19 that aims to provide a budget- and environmentally-friendly alternative to work-related travel.

"There will be 15 sites around the country: Five here in D.C. at each of our office buildings and then 10 more at regional offices. While these are in GSA locations we are going to be encouraging other federal agencies to use this technology and take advantage of it," said Mary Davie, assistant commissioner of integrated technology services at the GSA's federal acquisition service.

Many agencies, including GSA, had travel budgets reduced due to budget cuts, said Davie while speaking at a May 19 event hosted by AFFIRM in Washington, D.C.

"We see this as a good opportunity [to provide] networking tools for agencies to use; it will be part of our new E2 travel system," she said. "So, if somebody's looking at a way to communicate, rather than saying I need to get on a plane or book a train to see someone in San Francisco [they can] schedule a telepresence conference."

According to Davie, GSA will begin using the system on a pilot basis this summer and invite other agencies to participate in the pilot. In October, GSA will make telepresence available on a fee-for-service basis for the other federal agencies. Eventually, GSA may link its sites with other agency telepresence implementations, or leverage existing private-sector run telepresence services such as those operated by Marriott, said Davie.

The project's October 2010 announcement by GSA Administrator Martha Johnson coincided with an the contract award to AT&T (NYSE: T), which will develop and manage the virtual network. The initial announcement described the program as an estimated $18 million task order under GSA's Networx Enterprise contract.  

While GSA's latest program shows an emphasis on telepresence as a means to avoid business travel, GSA has recently deemphasized its role in helping reduce day-to-day workforce expenses and emissions through telework.

In late April GSA decided not to renew contracts for telework centers operated by non-profits and universities in the D.C.-metro area, causing seven centers to close. The decision, according to an email from GSA to the telework centers, was based on the fact that telework is being done more at home, making telework centers less necessary.

For more:
- see GSA's telepresence FAQ page
- listen to the initial announcement from Martha Johnson
- see this GSA press release 

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