Amidst all the other turbulence on Capitol Hill last year, the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) was renovating – on a scale not seen in over fifty years. That project brought two hearing rooms into the twenty-first century, replacing bare-bones 1960-vintage microphones and equipment with state-of-the-art audio and video systems. This new gear provided the Committee with greatly-improved capability to broadcast hearings and markups, and added new powerful features as well.
The new setup includes multi-function touch screens for members at their places on the dais, which lets them follow Floor action, quickly access PowerPoint, memos and documents presented during hearings, get messages, and pull up additional reference materials.
But the biggest change is the new video teleconferencing built into the system. “Tandberg CODEC gear with multipoint capabilities can be routed to these Committee rooms as required. The House of Representatives’ Recording Studio coordinates all our inbound and outbound broadcast and teleconference requirements ,” explained a senior committee staffer who spoke with us on background. “That now allows HASC Members to speak directly with forward-deployed military units or commanders as the situation might require.”
Staff are confident that use of this VTC capability will increase as a complement to Congressional Delegation (CODEL) field trips. “On a VTC, you can talk to a few people and a couple of field commanders. When members go on CODELS, they talk to hundreds of people, from generals to field specialists. VTC can’t replace that spontaneous interaction, but it does mean that, in an urgent situation or on very short notice, the members can speak face-to-face with forward-deployed commanders who might not otherwise be easily accessible, or are too far away to travel easily and quickly to Capitol Hill.”
All 62 committee members can access the system at once, but it can also be used by just one or two at time. “The members are still getting used to new technologies, but with every election cycle the HASC – members as well as staff — get more comfortable with using these new capabilities.”