Alternative-Fueled Vehicles:

Progress Made in Accelerating Federal Purchases, but Benefits and Costs Remain Uncertain

RCED-94-161: Published: Jul 15, 1994. Publicly Released: Aug 26, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the federal government's support of alternative-fueled vehicles, focusing on: (1) uncertainties relating to the overall benefits and costs of using alternative fuels; (2) federal encouragement of the development of alternative refueling facilities; (3) federal efforts to accelerate acquisitions of alternative-fueled vehicles; and (4) the coordination of federal, state, and local alternative fuels programs.

GAO found that: (1) alternative-fueled vehicles' pollution control, energy security, and economic costs and benefits need to be evaluated further; (2) neither the Department of Energy (DOE) nor the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has conducted a comprehensive life-cycle cost analysis of alternative fuel use; (3) federal encouragement of alternative refueling facilities has met with limited success because the vehicles are not geographically concentrated; (4) DOE and the General Services Administration have a number of options to increase alternative-fueled vehicle use; (5) the DOE Clean Cities Program could encourage more development of refueling facilities, but faces leadership, policy, and funding problems; (6) DOE believes that the federal government will not meet its accelerated targets for acquiring alternative-fueled vehicles and the government will rely on less costly conversion of existing vehicles; (7) federal agencies have had some success in coordinating their alternative-fuels program with state and local programs, but problems remain; and (8) state and local officials would like clearer EPA guidelines on alternative fuels programs credits, DOE technical guidance on alternative-fueled vehicles, and a comprehensive source for financial assistance information.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Both DOE and GSA have taken action to concentrate alternative-fueled vehicles in priority locations, such as in cities included in DOE's Clean Cities Program. DOE stated that such concentration helps build support at the local level and expands the alternative refueling infrastructure. DOE and GSA, in cooperation with other federal agencies, are working with alternative fuel industry coalitions and alternative fuel providers to install alternative refueling facilities in conjunction with the placement of alternative-fueled vehicles.

    Recommendation: To learn more about the benefits and costs of alternative-fueled vehicles and provide greater incentives for alternative fuel providers to install refueling facilities, the Secretary of Energy, in cooperation with the Administrator of General Services, should develop a more aggressive strategy to concentrate federal alternative-fueled vehicles in priority locations, such as the cities in the Clean Cities Program. One way to accomplish this goal might be to offer additional discounts on federal purchases and leases of alternative-fueled vehicles to agencies that agree to place them in priority locations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to GSA, the modification of its fleet management system to create the new vehicle tracking system allows GSA to track AFVs by the ZIP code in which they are garaged. GSA reported that this system has greatly enhanced its ability to ensure that vehicles remain close to refueling stations, where possible, through periodic comparisons of the ZIP code where the AFV is garaged with the ZIP codes of refueling facilities.

    Recommendation: To facilitate alternative fuel use, the Administrator of General Services should use the new GSA vehicle tracking system to ensure that the federal fleets' alternative-fueled vehicles remain near alternative fuel refueling facilities. If an agency moves an alternative-fueled vehicle to a location that lacks refueling facilities, GSA should attempt to reassign that vehicle to another agency that will operate it where fuel is available.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Rather than implement the legislative requirement, DOE has relied on voluntary actions by federal agencies to use alternative fuels. DOE believes that changing habits by not using gasoline requires time, education, information dissemination, involvement with all relevant stakeholders, negotiations with fuel providers, and potential incentives. DOE believes that a program structured around these elements will be the most effective. DOE said that it is monitoring this situation and will consider other actions, such as the recommendation, if voluntary efforts fail to work.

    Recommendation: To ensure alternative fuel use and provide greater incentives to alternative fuel providers, the Secretary of Energy should implement the existing legislation requiring that dual-fueled federal vehicles not use conventional petroleum-based fuels unless the Secretary determines that using alternative fuels to operate the vehicles is not feasible.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE stated that in recent meetings with alternative fuel suppliers, DOE and GSA shared specific data on the location, type, fuel consumption, and usage rates for federal alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs) in specific areas of the country. Also, through the Clean Cities Program, DOE and GSA have been working with alternative fuel suppliers to identify locations for new refueling sites. DOE has also shared in the costs of developing alternative refueling facilities in some locations.

    Recommendation: Within priority locations, such as Clean Cities, the Secretary of Energy and the Administrator of General Services should enhance their ability to convince alternative fuel providers to install refueling facilities by developing: (1) data on the location and operation of federal, state, and local alternative-fueled vehicles; and (2) estimates of the potential fuel usage in such vehicles. As a last resort, DOE could use its existing authority to share the costs of developing refueling facilities in some locations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In recent meetings with alternative fuel suppliers, GSA and DOE shared specific data on the location, type, fuel consumption, and usage rates for federal AFVs in specific areas of the country. Also, through the Clean Cities Program, DOE and GSA have been working with alternative fuel suppliers to identify locations for new refueling sites prior to delivery of AFVs to that location. In addition, GSA is testing a driver incentive initiative to encourage greater use of alternative fuels.

    Recommendation: Within priority locations, such as Clean Cities, the Secretary of Energy and the Administrator of General Services should enhance their ability to convince alternative fuel providers to install refueling facilities by developing: (1) data on the location and operation of federal, state, and local alternative-fueled vehicles; and (2) estimates of the potential fuel usage in such vehicles. As a last resort, DOE could use its existing authority to share the costs of developing refueling facilities in some locations.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOE reported that it implemented this recommendation by coordinating the purchase and placement of AFVs for the federal, state, local, and private fleets within the context of its Clean Cities Program.

    Recommendation: To encourage automobile manufacturers to improve the availability of alternative-fueled vehicles and lower their prices, the Secretary of Energy should work with federal, state, and local government and private fleet operators to minimize the different types of vehicle makes and models included in their acquisition plans. One way to accomplish this could be to develop common specifications for the major uses of alternative-fueled vehicles and encourage fleet operators to adopt these common specifications when buying vehicles.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

 

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