Federal Energy Management:

GSA's Recovery Act Program Is on Track, but Opportunities Exist to Improve Transparency, Performance Criteria, and Risk Management

GAO-10-630: Published: Jun 16, 2010. Publicly Released: Jun 16, 2010.

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The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act) provided the General Services Administration (GSA) with $5.55 billion to invest in federal buildings and promote economic recovery. This funding includes $4.5 billion to convert buildings to high-performance green buildings (HPGB), which seek to reduce energy and water use, among other goals. GAO was asked to address the (1) steps GSA has taken to implement the program and make its Recovery Act projects transparent to the public, (2) extent to which GSA's Recovery Act projects are helping the agency convert buildings to HPGB and addressing federal energy and water conservation requirements and goals, and (3) extent to which GSA has identified potential risks to its Recovery Act program and developed strategies to mitigate those risks. GAO reviewed GSA documents and relevant laws and executive orders, and interviewed GSA officials at headquarters and staff for 12 projects, which varied in type, size, and location.

GSA has put an organizational structure in place to implement its Recovery Act program and, as of April 30, 2010, had obligated just over $4 billion of its $5.55 billion appropriation, and is on track to meet the act's obligation deadlines. GSA also has published information on its Recovery Act program, such as agencywide plans for spending funds and lists of projects, but this information does not identify the nature of the work being conducted or describe the 263 projects GSA has selected for Recovery Act funding. Without this information, the program is less than fully transparent--a key GSA Recovery Act goal--because the public cannot readily discern what individual projects entail or are expected to achieve with Recovery Act funding. GSA's Recovery Act projects will enhance energy and water conservation performance in the 263 projects to varying degrees. GSA has begun collecting the data it would need to measure the likely extent of improvement. GSA set minimum performance criteria for its projects, which include reducing energy use by 30 percent. The criteria do not, however, include reducing the energy and environmental impacts of transportation through building location and site design, although this is part of the statutory definition of a HPGB. Under the Recovery Act, GSA is to use this definition when converting existing buildings. According to GSA, some managers are designing transportation-related improvements into their projects. However, because it is not part of GSA's criteria, other managers may not be systematically considering such improvements. According to GSA, the agency has begun to roll out a new centralized data system to collect and report on specific information for Recovery Act projects' green improvements and performance. GSA has identified risks to its Recovery Act program, such as the risk that Recovery Act reporting is inaccurate or incomplete, and risk mitigation strategies. In addition, GSA's approach to risk management is generally consistent with best practices we have developed. However, GSA relies on informal communication to identify project-level risks and has not taken steps to ensure the completion of project-level risk planning documents required by GSA. GAO found that the required documents, which are intended to help plan for project-level risks, had not been fully completed for 9 of the 12 projects reviewed. Unidentified risks to GSA's Recovery Act projects could potentially limit GSA's ability to achieve Recovery Act goals.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In June 2010, we reported on GSA's plans and efforts related to the use of Recovery Act funds. We found that GSA had provided information on the goals of its Recovery Act program, the projects selected to receive Recovery Act funding, and its own progress in obligating and expending Recovery Act funding, but that it had not included details on the nature of the work being conducted on individual projects or clearly identified or explained why it had added or removed projects from its program in GSA's project plan revisions. We recommended that GSA make information on the nature of the work being conducted and its expected outcome publicly available for each Recovery Act project. In response, since June 2011, GSA has posted project descriptions of its Recovery Act funded projects to its external Recovery Act website, www.gsa.gov/recovery. The descriptions were incorporated into the Federal Buildings Fund Investments map, an interactive map which graphically depicts GSA Recovery Act obligations and expenditures by state and project. As a result, GSA has enhanced the transparency of its Recovery Act program by providing the public with the information it needs to discern what individual projects entail, how funds are being spent and hold GSA accountable.

    Recommendation: Consistent with GSA's Recovery Act transparency goal of providing the public with an understanding of how its tax dollars are being spent, the GSA Administrator should make information on the nature of the work being conducted and its expected outcome publicly available for each Recovery Act project.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 2010, we reported on GSA's plans and efforts related to the use of Recovery Act funds, including $4.5 billion to convert buildings to high-performance green buildings, which seek to reduce energy and water use, among other goals. We found that GSA had set minimum performance criteria (MPC) for its projects, such as reducing energy use by 30 percent. However, the criteria did not include reducing the energy and environmental impacts of transportation through building location and site design, which is part of the statutory definition of a high-performance green building that GSA was to use when converting existing buildings. As a result, GSA project managers may not have systematically considered transportation-related improvements because they were not included in the agency's criteria. Based on this finding, we recommended that the GSA Administrator revise the MPC to require that project managers consider transportation-related improvements for Recovery Act projects, as appropriate. In response, in 2011, GSA completed development of criteria for Recovery Act projects pertaining to reducing the energy and environmental impacts of transportation. These criteria include considerations such as incorporating design strategies to increase tenants' use of commuting alternatives to single occupancy vehicles and minimizing onsite automobile parking. In addition, GSA integrated these criteria in its mandatory facilities standards that it continues to use in programming and designing projects for its buildings. As a result, GSA's project managers are able to reduce the environmental and energy impacts of transportation through site designs that support a full range of transportation choices for users of GSA's buildings in conformance with high-performance green building standards.

    Recommendation: To reduce the environmental and energy impacts of transportation through site designs that support a full range of transportation choices for users of buildings, the GSA Administrator should revise the minimum performance criteria (MPC) to require that project managers consider transportation-related improvements for Recovery Act projects, as appropriate.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In June 2010, we reported on GSA's plans and efforts related to the use of Recovery Act funds. We found that GSA had identified risks to its Recovery Act program and risk mitigation strategies and that GSA's approach to risk management was generally consistent with best practices we had developed. GSA focused on broad risks that could affect GSA's ability to address objectives for the agency as a whole. However, GSA relied on informal communication to identify project-level risks and had not taken steps to ensure completion of project-level risk planning documents. Such GSA reliance could result in some vulnerabilities going unidentified and increase the potential for risks to negatively affect GSA's program as projects move from preliminary stages to construction. Therefore, we recommended that GSA require Recovery Act project management staff to complete project-level risk planning documents. On January 14, 2011, GSA issued a directive to their regional project teams reinforcing that the Comprehensive Project Plans (CPP), which included the requirement for project-level risk management plans, must be completed for all projects over a specific dollar threshold. In addition, GSA's Public Buildings Service Office of Design and Construction Zone Teams were assigned responsibility for the monitoring and quarterly review of the CPPs. As a result, GSA has taken steps to ensure that management staff are identifying, planning, and addressing project-level risks.

    Recommendation: To ensure that steps are being taken to identify and plan for project-level risks, the GSA Administrator should require Recovery Act project management staff to complete risk planning documents.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration

 

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