science icon, source: National Cancer Institute

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.


In November 2012, HUD, in consultation with Energy and EPA, issued a preliminary report responding to GAO’s November 2011 recommendation that the three agencies lead an effort to collaborate on identifying performance information for green building initiatives for the nonfederal sector, which includes private, state, local, and tribal entities. The report concurs with GAO’s finding that while a number of agencies have collaborated on specific green building initiatives, no single government-wide effort—comparable to that for federal facilities—exists for collaborating on green building initiatives for the nonfederal sector. Also, as recommended by GAO, the report explores the need for additional legislative or executive authority to establish a coordinating entity. 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. These partnerships include the Recovery Through Retrofit initiative, through which HUD, Energy, and EPA coordinate energy efficiency initiatives with other federal agencies on a targeted basis, and the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, through which HUD, EPA, and the Department of Transportation collaborate on grant and technical assistance initiatives related to location and other aspects of green building. The report also 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. 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 addition, in early 2014, HUD plans to survey the agencies identified by GAO 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.

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, under the existing partnerships and authorities at the time of GAO’s review, about one-third of the 94 initiatives—implemented by 11 agencies—had green building goals and performance measures. As GAO previously reported, 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 collaboration among all agencies implementing initiatives on ways to identify shared goals and adopt common performance measures to assess results government-wide. Such an effort 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