Federally Owned Vehicles:

Agencies Should Improve Processes to Identify Underutilized Vehicles

GAO-17-426: Published: Apr 25, 2017. Publicly Released: Apr 25, 2017.

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What GAO Found

Federal agencies spent more than $1.6 billion to purchase approximately 64,500 passenger vehicles and light trucks through the General Services Administration (GSA) from fiscal years 2011 through 2015. Five departments—Defense (DOD), Homeland Security (DHS), Agriculture (USDA), Justice, and Interior—purchased 90 percent of these vehicles, and spent a comparable percentage of the associated funds. The vehicles cost an average of approximately $25,600 each.

GAO determined that the three agencies reviewed—Navy within DOD, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) within DHS, and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) within USDA—varied in efforts to determine if vehicles were utilized in fiscal year 2015. Navy determined that all of the 3,652 vehicles GAO selected for review were utilized by applying DOD and Navy criteria such as for mileage and individually justifying vehicles. CBP did not determine if 1,862 (81 percent) of its 2,300 selected vehicles were utilized in fiscal year 2015 even though the vehicles did not meet DHS's minimum mileage criteria. CBP officials stated that, contrary to DHS policy, CBP did not have criteria to measure these vehicles' utilization because it was difficult to manually collect the data needed to establish appropriate criteria and assess if vehicles met those criteria. CBP is currently installing devices in many of its vehicles that will allow it to more easily collect such data, but lacks a specific plan for how to ensure these data will allow it to determine if vehicles are utilized. NRCS did not determine if 579 (9 percent) of its 6,223 selected vehicles were utilized in fiscal year 2015. USDA and NRCS fleet officials stated that the agency did not annually assess vehicle utilization, nor did it apply USDA criteria such as mileage or days used. USDA and NRCS officials said they were unaware of USDA's policy requiring these steps because the policy had not been widely discussed or shared within USDA since 2012. CBP and NRCS cumulatively incurred an estimated $13.5 million in depreciation and maintenance costs in fiscal year 2015 for vehicles with unknown utilization (see table). While these costs may not equal the cost savings agencies derive from eliminating underutilized vehicles, without corrective action, agencies are incurring expenses to retain vehicles without determining if they are utilized.

Number, Percentage, and Cost of Selected Owned Vehicles That Selected Agencies Did Not Identify as either Utilized or Underutilized in Fiscal Year 2015

Agency

Number of owned vehicles selected by GAO

Number of selected vehicles with unknown utilizationa

Percentage of the agency's selected owned vehicles

Estimated cost to retain vehicles, in millionsb

Customs and Border Protection

2,300

1,862

81

$12.7

Natural Resources Conservation Service

6,223

579

9

$0.8

Navy

3,652

0

0

$0.0

Total

12,175

2,441

20

$13.5

Source: GAO analysis of agency-provided data. | GAO-17-426

a Selected owned vehicles for each agency in GAO's review covered all passenger vehicles and light trucks, except those that were: 1) emergency responder vehicles, 2) law enforcement vehicles, 3) tactical vehicles, or 4) located outside the Continental United States, among other limited exclusions.

b Costs (in nominal dollars) include maintenance and depreciation in fiscal year 2015. Depreciation costs are unrealized until the vehicle is sold.

Why GAO Did This Study

Federal agencies spent about $3.4 billion in fiscal year 2015 to keep and operate almost 450,000 federally owned vehicles. Each federal agency is responsible for determining utilization criteria and assessing vehicle utilization. GAO was asked to describe federally owned vehicles and examine federal processes for assessing their utilization.

This report, among other objectives: (1) describes recently purchased vehicles, and (2) assesses selected agencies' efforts to determine if vehicles are utilized.

GAO analyzed government-wide data on approximately 64,500 light trucks and passenger vehicles purchased through GSA from fiscal years 2011 through 2015, the most recent available. To assess utilization efforts, GAO selected three agencies (using factors such as fleet size), and reviewed agency utilization information on over 12,000 owned vehicles from fiscal year 2015. GAO also interviewed federal officials. These findings are not generalizable to all agencies but provide insight into the practices of agencies that procure thousands of vehicles.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that CBP develop a plan for how it will use its new data collection devices to establish criteria and assess vehicle utilization and that USDA communicate its vehicle utilization policy to fleet officials. DHS and USDA plan to implement these recommendations.

For more information, contact Lori Rectanus at (202) 512-2834 or rectanusl@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Federal agencies spent about $3.4 billion in fiscal year 2015 to keep and operate almost 450,000 federally owned vehicles. Each federal agency is responsible for determining utilization criteria and assessing vehicle utilization in a manner that allows them to fulfill their missions and meet various federal guidelines and directives. In 2017, GAO reported that DHS had policies aimed at achieving the objective of determining if vehicles are utilized and mitigating the risk of retaining vehicles that are not needed. However, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) did not follow DHS's policies for assessing vehicle utilization. CBP did not determine if 1,862 (81 percent) of its 2,300-reviewed by GAO-selected vehicles were utilized in fiscal year 2015 even though the vehicles did not meet DHS's minimum mileage criteria. CBP officials stated that, contrary to DHS policy, CBP did not have criteria to measure these vehicles' utilization because it was difficult to manually collect the data needed to establish appropriate criteria and assess if vehicles met those criteria. CBP incurred an estimated $12.7 million in maintenance and depreciation costs for these vehicles during fiscal year 2015. Because CBP did not determine if these vehicles were utilized, some of this cost may have been for vehicles that the agency did not need. At the time of GAO's review, CBP was installing "telematics" devices in many of its vehicles that would allow it to more easily collect such data. CBP officials planned to have the devices installed in approximately 60 percent of its fleet by March 2017. However, CBP lacked (1) the funding for installing the devices in the remaining 40 percent of CBP's fleet and (2) a timeline to do so, and (3) written plan to ensure the data collected by these devises would allow CBP to determine if its vehicles are utilized. As a result, CBP risked losing the opportunity to use these new data to identify and remove underutilized vehicles because CBP had not developed a plan to determine how it will use this usage data to improve its utilization assessment processes, including processes for vehicles without telematics devices. Therefore, GAO recommended that CBP develop a written plan for how CBP would use newly-available utilization data to improve its utilization assessment processes. In 2018, GAO confirmed that CBP had established a data collection process to capture utilization metrics for 100 percent of its standard vehicles (passenger cars and pickup trucks). CBP also developed and implemented defined vehicle utilization criteria, which includes a review and justification process for vehicles that do not meet the criteria. These actions should help facilitate the removal of underutilized vehicles from CBP's fleet, which meets the intent of GAO's recommendation.

    Recommendation: To facilitate the removal of underutilized vehicles, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection to develop a written plan for how CBP will use newly available usage data to improve its utilization assessment processes. Such a plan would define utilization criteria that reflect CBP's mission and describe how CBP will review and individually justify vehicles that do not meet the utilization criteria established by either DHS or CBP.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Federal agencies spent about $3.4 billion in fiscal year 2015 to keep and operate almost 450,000 federally owned vehicles. Each federal agency is responsible for determining utilization criteria and assessing vehicle utilization in a manner that allows them to fulfill their missions and meet various federal guidelines and directives. In 2017, GAO reported that USDA had policies aimed at achieving the objective of determining if vehicles are utilized and mitigating the risk of retaining vehicles that are not needed. However, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) did not follow USDA's policies for assessing vehicle utilization. Specifically, USDA issued a policy memo in 2012 that specifies utilization criteria as either a function of mileage or days used. Consequently, NRCS did not determine if 579 (9 percent) of its 6,223-reviewed by GAO-selected vehicles were utilized in fiscal year 2015. NRCS retained all 579 of these vehicles and incurred approximately $750,000 in maintenance and depreciation costs for these vehicles in fiscal year 2015. According to the officials, they were unaware of USDA's policy requiring these steps because the policy had not been widely discussed or shared within USDA since 2012. Therefore, GAO recommended that USDA communicate its policy on vehicle utilization to fleet management staff to ensure staff are aware of USDA policy. In 2018, GAO confirmed that USDA had communicated its utilization policy. Specifically, USDA redistributed the 2012 utilization policy memo to agency fleet managers. As a result, USDA should be in a better position to enhance awareness of the agency's utilization assessment process and facilitate the elimination of unnecessary vehicles.

    Recommendation: To enhance awareness of NRCS's utilization assessment process and facilitate the elimination of unnecessary vehicles, the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture should communicate USDA's policy on vehicle utilization to USDA's fleet management staff to ensure staff are aware of USDA policy. This communication could include redistributing the 2012 utilization policy memo.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

 

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