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Science and the Environment: Green Building

To evaluate the potential for overlap or fragmentation among federal green building initiatives, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency should lead other federal agencies in collaborating on assessing their investments in more than 90 initiatives to foster green building in the nonfederal sector.


To help assess the results of investments in individual federal initiatives to foster green building in the nonfederal sector, as well as their combined results, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Department of Energy (Energy), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should lead an effort with other agencies that are implementing green building initiatives to collaborate on identifying performance information, such as shared goals and common performance measures, for green building initiatives for the nonfederal sector.


HUD, Energy, and EPA have taken steps to collaborate on identifying performance information for green building initiatives for the nonfederal sector (i.e., private, state, local, and tribal entities), as GAO recommended in November 2011, but they have not completed actions that could better ensure that agencies collaborate on assessing results government-wide.

  • In November 2012, HUD, in consultation with Energy and EPA, issued a preliminary report responding to GAO’s recommendation. The report concludes that, in the short term, cooperation can best occur within existing federal authorities but that, in the long term, a higher level of centralized collaboration may require additional legislative or executive authority. It also concludes that, in the short term, green building initiatives are best served through existing interagency partnerships that involve these three agencies. The report states that the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ)—which coordinates the President’s environmental efforts—may be well-positioned to convene agencies and consult with agency staff to develop shared performance goals for green development in the nonfederal sector. 
  • In November 2013, HUD officials reported that the agency further coordinates related activities with Energy, EPA, and other agencies through government-wide collaboration on the President’s Climate Action Plan, which CEQ manages. HUD officials also reported plans to survey the agencies identified by GAO in November 2011 and convene a follow-up meeting of these agencies to assess the extent to which common performance measures exist for green building initiatives for the nonfederal sector. 
  • In March 2014, Energy and EPA officials identified additional existing interagency partnerships, including the PowerSaver Loan Program, through which Energy and HUD have entered into an interagency agreement to promote HUD's loan program for energy efficiency, and EPA’s participation on the Federal Interagency Committee on Indoor Air Quality. 
  • In November 2014, HUD officials provided an update stating that, given the significant interagency involvement that would be required to implement its proposed survey and related actions, HUD has requested CEQ’s leadership in facilitating the survey and that HUD is committed to working with CEQ and other agencies on reporting the findings. 
  • In October 2015, a CEQ official told GAO that CEQ is not working with HUD on this issue and that CEQ does not have the resources to consider doing so in the near future. HUD officials told GAO that CEQ is not in a position to facilitate the proposed survey and that HUD is considering other approaches to securing the relevant performance measurement information within existing staffing and resource constraints. 
  • In March 2016, Energy reported that the agency is waiting for HUD to complete the proposed survey and looks forward to working with HUD and EPA to implement survey results, including opportunities to collaborate on identifying performance information. HUD and EPA reported that they had no further action to report on collaborating to assess results government-wide. HUD and Energy identified interagency collaboration on select initiatives, such as the Better Buildings Initiative, which targets the nonfederal sector to accelerate energy efficiency measures and solutions.

GAO agrees that, in the short term, existing federal partnerships and authorities offer important opportunities for agencies to collaborate on green building initiatives for the nonfederal sector. However, without comprehensive information about each individual initiative’s progress toward fostering green building, and without collaboration across federal agencies to establish green building goals and ways to measure progress, Congress, agency heads, and the public have incomplete information about the results of individual and overall federal efforts to foster green building in the nonfederal sector and the efficiency of these efforts. Therefore, in the long term, it will be important for HUD, Energy, and EPA—the agencies implementing most (about two-thirds) of the initiatives GAO identified—to take actions necessary to better ensure agencies collaborate on the initiatives to identify shared goals and adopt common performance measures to assess results government-wide. Such an effort could include HUD’s proposed survey and related actions and could help identify opportunities for enhancing efficiency and reducing costs to administer these initiatives.

  • portrait of
    • Frank Rusco
    • Director, Natural Resources and Environment
    • (202) 512-3841
  • portrait of
    • David Wise
    • Director, Physical Infrastructure
    • (202) 512-2834