Lawmakers Look to Virtual Reality for Training Feds

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"It's not just a video game," says spokeswoman for New York Democrat who wrote bill creating advisory committee.

Several House Democrats have a novel idea for how to train the federal workforce: virtual reality. 

The 2019 Virtual Reality Technologies Enabling Coaching and Honing Skills (VR TECHS) in Government Act (H.R. 4103), introduced by Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y., would create a federal advisory committee headed by the General Services Administration to develop ways to use virtual reality products for federal employees’ professional development. The committee would be tasked with establishing best practices for using virtual, augmented and mixed reality technology to train employees and to share those with agencies. 

Sarah Sinovic, a spokeswoman for Clarke, said the congresswoman first started thinking about the bill when hearing about a firefighter who was not properly trained and died on the job. The bill, she said, would create opportunities for the entire federal workforce to benefit from virtual reality, not just first responders. 

“It’s not just a narrow scope,” Sinovic said. “Anyone who has an opportunity to see their work in a virtual reality setting is eligible for this.” 

She added Clarke, a co-chair on Congress’ Reality Caucus, wants to empower the federal workforce “to do the best they can regardless of their job.” 

“Our federal workforce is helping people across the US in various facets,” Sinovic said, adding employees should “have the best skills and training. Virtual reality is a great way to allow our federal workforce to have that.” 

Employees from GSA, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Office of Personnel Management, as well as private sector experts, would make up the voting members of the advisory committee. Representatives from a variety of additional federal agencies would also sit on the panel as non-voting members. The panel would have 18 months to report recommendations to GSA and Congress, including legislative proposals. The committee would determine the need for technical assistance and annual training for agency human resources offices. 

“Virtual reality really has a place,” Sinovic said. “It’s not just a video game.”