Federal Buildings:

GSA Should Establish Goals and Performance Measures to Manage the Smart Buildings Program

GAO-18-200: Published: Jan 30, 2018. Publicly Released: Jan 30, 2018.

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What GAO Found

Limited quantified information exists on the costs and benefits of the General Services Administration's (GSA) smart buildings program's key technologies. GSA officials stated that the approximate cost of equipping a building with these technologies ranged between about $48,000 to $155,000. However, they stated that accurately calculating installation costs is challenging because GSA typically installs these technologies in selected buildings incrementally and sometimes as part of other capital improvement projects. Additionally, GSA officials identified perceived operational benefits of the smart buildings program's key technologies, including that these technologies enable officials to more precisely identify building system problems and more closely monitor contractors. However, existing data on the smart buildings program are of limited usefulness in quantifying the program's benefits. For example, according to GSA officials, while data from an application within GSAlink that estimates avoided costs from addressing each fault that GSAlink identifies are useful for prioritizing maintenance actions, the imprecise estimates preclude their use as a measure of actual avoided costs in quantifying program benefits.

GSA does not have documented, clearly defined goals for the smart buildings program, nor has GSA developed performance measures that would allow it to assess the program's progress. These omissions are contrary to leading practices of results-oriented organizations identified in previous GAO work. GSA officials verbally described broad goals for the smart buildings program to GAO, but the agency has not documented these goals. Further, because GSA has not clearly defined its verbally expressed goals, it cannot demonstrate progress in achieving them. For example, GSA officials said that the agency cannot measure progress for the stated goal of improving tenant productivity and comfort because of the subjective nature of individual tenant preferences, such as for office temperatures. Additionally, GSA has not developed performance measures to assess the program, and GSA's lack of data that can be used to quantify benefits of the program impedes its ability to measure the success of the program. Without clearly defined goals, related performance measures, and data that can be used to measure its progress, GSA is limited in its ability to make informed decisions about the smart buildings program.

GSA faces challenges in implementing the smart buildings program and has taken steps to mitigate these challenges. Since smart building technologies are Internet-connected, they are potentially vulnerable to cyberattacks that could compromise security or cause harm to facilities or their occupants. GSA has taken actions intended to mitigate cybersecurity challenges, such as instituting policies to address threats and known vulnerabilities and moving Internet-connected building systems to GSA's secured network. Separately, according to GSA officials, GSA faces implementation challenges related to the limited technological proficiency of some GSA building managers and contractors or lack of buy-in from them. GSA is taking actions intended to address these challenges. For example, it has provided training to staff and contractors, and its central office monitors the extent to which staff address problems detected by the smart buildings program's key technologies.

Why GAO Did This Study

To help comply with federal policies aimed at improving federal building energy and environmental management, GSA has implemented a smart buildings program nationwide in federally owned buildings under its custody and control. Two key technologies included in the program are Internet-connected advanced utility meters and an analytical software application, GSAlink, which alerts staff to potential building system problems, such as equipment operating outside of normal hours.

GAO was asked to review GSA's smart buildings program. This report examines: (1) what is known about the costs and benefits of the program, (2) the extent to which GSA has developed performance goals and measures to help it manage the performance of the program, and (3) any challenges GSA faces in implementing the technologies used in the program and GSA's actions to mitigate those challenges. GAO reviewed relevant GSA documentation, interviewed officials at GSA's central and regional offices, and visited a sample of GSA smart buildings in San Francisco, California, and Washington, D.C. that were selected based on the high concentration of GSA smart buildings located in each city.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that GSA establish clearly defined performance goals and related performance measures for the smart buildings program, and identify and develop data to measure progress. GSA concurred with GAO's recommendations.

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

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: To comply with federal policies intended to reduce energy use and lower operating costs of federal buildings, GSA began implementing "smart building technologies" in its buildings around 2005. Key technologies of GSA's smart buildings program are advanced utility meters and GSAlink. Advanced utility meters continually measure consumption and record usage data. GSAlink is a computer software program that collects and analyzes data from advanced meters and from a facility's "building automation system" and uses this information to alert building staff to potential problems by sending fault notifications. GSA uses both technologies, for example, to identify equipment that is operating outside of normal parameters or normal business hours which enables early investigation by maintenance staff to remedy underlying issues, potentially resulting in lower energy use and operating costs and increased tenant comfort. At the time of our review, GSA had installed 675 advanced meters in its buildings and was using GSAlink in 81 buildings. However, in January 2018, we reported that GSA did not have documented, clearly defined goals for the smart buildings program, nor had it developed performance measures that would allow it to assess the program's progress. GSA officials verbally described broad goals for the smart buildings program to us, but the agency had not documented these goals. Further, because GSA had not clearly defined its verbally-expressed goals, it could not demonstrate progress in achieving them. This lack of clearly defined goals is contrary to federal internal control standards, which state that agency management should define objectives in measurable terms so that performance toward those objectives can be assessed. Given GSA's interest in expanding use of its smart building technologies, we concluded that without documented, clearly defined goals and performance measures linked to these goals, GSA would be limited in its ability to make informed decisions about the smart buildings program. As a result, we recommended that GSA establish clearly defined goals and related performance measures for its smart buildings program. In May 2018, GSA developed a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for GSAlink to ensure consistent application and realization of the benefits of the technology in managing its buildings. In particular, the SOP set a goal of improving buildings' operating efficiencies. To measure progress toward this goal, the SOP defined three key performance indicators to be used in buildings equipped with GSAlink: (1) the percentage of fault notifications addressed within the expected timeframe, (2) the amount of time building spaces were within temperature setpoints, and (3) the cost that would be avoided by addressing faults that have been deferred. Further, in December 2018, GSA issued a revision to its National Operations and Maintenance Specification which, among other things, advises its maintenance service contractors--who are responsible for performing maintenance work in GSA's buildings--of its intent to use smart buildings technologies to support its goal of operating buildings more efficiently. The specification calls for contractors' operations and maintenance staff to proactively leverage the smart building technologies in buildings so equipped to realize the full benefits from use of the technologies. By promulgating in its SOP its building operating efficiency improvement goal and use of key performance indicators that enable it to track progress toward this goal, and by providing for the use of smart buildings technologies by its maintenance service contractors, GSA is better-positioned to leverage the technologies and make informed decisions about the smart buildings program's operations to ensure that as resources are expended on the program, the agency can demonstrate that the program is meeting its objectives.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of the General Services Administration should establish clearly defined goals and related performance measures for the smart buildings program. (Recommendation 1)

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GSA maintains custody and control of a diverse buildings portfolio that includes approximately 1,600 federally-owned buildings across the Unites States which cost over $1 billion annually to operate and maintain. To comply with federal policies intended to reduce energy use and lower operating costs of federal buildings, GSA began implementing "smart building technologies" in its buildings around 2005. Key technologies comprising GSA's smart buildings program are advanced utility meters and GSAlink. Advanced utility meters continually measure consumption and record usage data. GSAlink is a computer software program that collects and analyzes data from advanced meters and from a facility's "building automation system" and uses this information to alert building staff to potential problems. GSA uses both technologies, for example, to identify equipment that is operating outside of normal parameters or normal business hours which enables early investigation by maintenance staff to remedy underlying issues, potentially resulting in lower energy use and operating costs and increased tenant comfort. At the time of our review, GSA had installed 675 advanced meters in its buildings and was using GSAlink in 81 buildings. However, in January 2018, we reported that GSA did not have the quality information it needed to measure the smart buildings program's performance because it has had difficulty in compiling data that would allow it to do so. This lack of quality information was contrary to federal internal control standards that call for federal program managers to use quality information to achieve that program's objectives and make informed decisions. While we acknowledged that determining what data can be collected in a cost-effective manner and used to measure the performance of the smart buildings program may be difficult, we observed that, without such data and measures, GSA lacked the ability to determine the program's progress and make informed decisions about its current and future operations. Given GSA's interest in expanding use of its smart building technologies, we recommended that GSA identify and develop data that can be used to measure progress in achieving the smart buildings program's goals. In May 2018, GSA developed a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for GSAlink that defined data to be used in key performance indicators that GSA requires to measure the success of its programs. In particular, the SOP established that data from GSAlink be collected to measure three key indicators: (1) the percentage of fault notifications addressed within the expected timeframe, (2) the amount of time building spaces were within temperature setpoints, and (3) the cost that would be avoided by addressing faults that have been deferred. These key performance indicators enable GSA to take steps to, for example, reduce energy consumption, generate operations and maintenance cost savings, and create a comfortable work environment conductive to improved tenant productivity in buildings equipped with GSA link--all of which relate to improved building operations efficiency. With its efforts to define and collect data from GSAlink to be used in its key performance indicators, GSA is better able to determine the smart buildings program's progress and make informed decisions about the program's current and future operations with respect to GSA's overarching goal of improving the efficiency of building operations across its portfolio.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of the General Services Administration should identify and develop data that can be used to measure progress in achieving the smart buildings program's goals. (Recommendation 2)

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration

 

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