GAO-11-318SP: Energy: Resolving conflicting requirements could more effectively achieve federal fleet energy goals

Energy

Resolving conflicting requirements could more effectively achieve federal fleet energy goals

Why Area Is Important

 

The federal government's vehicle fleet has over 600,000 civilian and nontactical military vehicles and consumes over 963,000 gallons of petroleum-based fuel per day. In fiscal year 2009, the federal government spent approximately $1.9 billion on procuring new vehicles. According to General Services Administration (GSA) officials, the governmentwide fleet is used to support of a variety of missions and consists of approximately 60 percent trucks, buses, and ambulances; fewer than 40 percent are passenger vehicles including passenger vans and sport utility vehicles.

The federal government's goals to reduce reliance on petroleum fuel and the negative impacts of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have led Congress and the Administration to prioritize the acquisition of alternative fuel vehicles (AFV) by federal agencies. The following federal laws and executive orders have set requirements and goals for acquiring alternative-fuel and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, increasing use of alternative fuels and reducing petroleum consumption: Energy Policy Act (EPAct) of 1992, EPAct of 2005, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, Executive Order 13423, and Executive Order 13514. These laws and executive orders affect over 20 agencies. A number of federal agencies play a role in overseeing and implementing these requirements including, the Department of Energy (DOE) and GSA.

What GAO Found

 

In light of multiple and sometimes conflicting statutes and a lack of performance measures, fleet managers often lack the flexibility and tools to meet the goal of reducing the federal fleet's use of petroleum and its GHG emissions. Congress and the Administration have defined a set of energy requirements for the federal fleet through statutes and executive orders. However, these statutes and orders were enacted and issued in a piecemeal fashion and represent a fragmented rather than integrated approach to meeting key national goals. Specifically, the requirements and priorities to increase use of alternative fuels, reduce petroleum use, and reduce GHG emissions, compel fleet managers to resolve the following conflicts:

  • Increase the use of alternative fuels vs. the unavailability of alternative fuels.Agencies are required to increase alternative fuel use, although most alternative fuels are not yet widely available. Thus, agencies have been purchasing primarily flex-fueled AFVs, those that can operate on E85—a blend of up to 85 percent ethanol and petroleum—or petroleum. However, since E85 was only available at 1 percent of U.S. fueling stations in 2009, agencies are requesting waivers from the requirement to use alternative fuels. According to DOE, in 2010, approximately 55 percent of flex-fueled AFVs received a waiver. Further, some fleet operators indicated they use petroleum without a waiver when alternative fuels are available because it is either more convenient, less expensive, or both.
  • Acquire AFVs vs. reduce petroleum consumption. Agencies are required to purchase AFVs, but this requirement may, in some cases, undermine the requirement to reduce petroleum consumption. Virtually every agency has succeeded in acquiring more AFVs, but there have been only modest reductions in petroleum use and modest increases in alternative fuel use, due to the lack of available alternative fuels. As previously stated, the lack of available alternative fuels results in agencies using petroleum to fuel AFVs. In areas where alternative fuels are not available, purchasing more fuel efficient non-AFVs could reduce petroleum consumption more than purchasing AFVs.[1]
  • Reduce GHG emissions vs. acquire AFVs. Under existing law, according to DOE, some vehicles with the lowest GHG emissions do not qualify as AFVs; and according to GSA, some AFVs emit more GHG emissions than some petroleum-fueled vehicles. Thus, by procuring a new vehicle with low GHG emissions the agency may meet the requirement to reduce GHG emissions, but not the requirement to purchase AFVs for its fleet.
  • Use plug-in hybrid vehicles vs. reduce electricity consumption in federal facilities. Other conflicts exist between fleet energy goals and the federal government energy goals. Agencies are encouraged to acquire plug-in hybrids for their fleets when they become publicly available; however, this could conflict with other requirements that encourage agencies to reduce electricity consumption in federal facilities. Thus, if an agency acquires plug-in vehicles they may meet the requirement, but this may lead to increased electricity consumption.[2]

Because fleet managers have to follow these conflicting and narrowly defined requirements, they do not always have the flexibility to make procurement decisions that would maximize the reduction in petroleum use and GHG emissions.

GAO has previously recommended that federal agencies propose legislative changes to resolve conflicts and set priorities for the requirements. DOE and GSA are working with stakeholders to develop proposed legislation that would create broader requirements targeted at fleet efficiency. These changes could streamline the federal fleet requirements to focus broadly on the reduction of petroleum use and GHG emissions. DOE has provided the results of these efforts to the Office of Management and Budget to inform their work.

A broader, performance-based approach, as DOE and GSA propose, would provide federal agencies—subject to these laws and executive orders—greater flexibility to make procurement decisions that would maximize the reduction in petroleum use and GHG emissions. GAO has found that results-oriented organizations strive to ensure that their day-to-day activities move them closer to accomplishing their goals. Further, GAO has reported that performance-based measures should cover multiple priorities, support decision making by providing useful information, and be limited to a few vital measures. Interviews and meetings with DOE, GSA officials and other fleet managers indicate that such broad goals and related performance measures would provide agencies greater flexibility to achieve the requirements of reduced petroleum use, decreased GHG emissions, or any other requirement defined in statute. For example, GSA officials indicated that a simple mandate to reduce petroleum consumption and GHG emissions by increasing fleet efficiency—rather than by narrowly defining the vehicle or fuel type—would provide agency fleet managers with a rational target and allow them to use a variety of available options to attain it.



[1]According to DOE, agencies may acquire low-GHG-emitting vehicles and consider them AFVs when alternative fuels are not available. However, agencies have found very few low-GHG options exist that meet mission requirements.

[2]DOE has identified a reporting approach that would allow fleet electricity use to be subtracted from facility electricity use.

Actions Needed

 

Changes in existing laws could streamline the requirements and provide fleet managers with more flexibility in meeting goals. DOE, in consultation with GSA and other appropriate agencies and organizations, has taken steps to implement GAO's prior recommendation to propose legislative changes that resolve conflicts and set priorities for agencies by providing proposed legislative changes to OMB. This is an important step in addressing the issue of conflicting and narrowly defined requirements. In addition to helping agencies set priorities, these proposals could inform Congress and agencies on how to potentially resolve conflicting requirements by developing performance-based goals and related measures which could provide agencies with greater flexibility allowing them to optimize strategies and meet broader goals. If properly developed, performance-based goals and measures would support fleet managers' decision making by providing a few key measures that help managers balance the priorities of the fleet requirements.

Framework for Analysis

 

The information contained in this analysis is based primarily on previously issued work listed under the "Related GAO Products" tab. Interviews with and documentation from GSA and DOE, as well as attendance at and discussions during fleet operators' meetings, together provided updated information.

Area Contact

 

For additional information about this area, contact Susan Fleming at (202) 512-2834 or flemings@gao.gov.