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Highlights

The Department of Energy (DOE) sets energy efficiency standards through the rulemaking process for certain consumer product categories, such as kitchen ranges, and industrial equipment, such as distribution transformers. Congress reported in 2005 that DOE was late in setting standards and required DOE to report every 6 months on the status of the backlog. GAO examined (1) the extent to which DOE has met its obligations to issue rules on minimum energy efficiency standards for consumer products and industrial equipment and (2) whether DOE's plan for clearing the backlog will be effective or can be improved. Among other things, GAO convened an expert panel on energy efficiency standards to identify causes and effects of delays and assess DOE's plans.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Energy 1. To increase the likelihood that DOE's plan for updating minimum energy efficiency standards is successfully implemented, the Secretary of Energy should employ the elements of leading management practices, including expediting the efforts DOE has begun to establish a tracking system to gather data that may be used to identify and address causes of delays to more effectively manage the rulemaking process.
Closed - Implemented
In the 1st quarter of 2008, DOE began using a system for managing and tracking its appliance standards rulemaking process. The system tracks progress by reviewers and program staff and identifies the length of time used for each stage of the process. According to the program's manager, the system has been instrumental in enabling the program to significantly increase the number of rulemakings issued. In using this system to monitor progress in development of rules, concurrence by internal reviewers, and publication of rules in the Federal Register, DOE has implemented the recommendation.
Department of Energy 2. To increase the likelihood that DOE's plan for updating minimum energy efficiency standards is successfully implemented, the Secretary of Energy should employ the elements of leading management practices, including ensuring that the interim goals and time frames are transparent to all stakeholders, and that all internal stakeholders, including reviewers and program staff, are held accountable for time frames.
Closed - Implemented
Beginning in mid-2007, DOE has made on-going process changes to improve the transparency of interim goals and timeframes to all stakeholders to better hold reviewers and program staff accountable to the timeframes. For example, DOE has developed standardized document templates, analysis guidelines and procedural instructions for rulemaking staff and technical contractors and made the tools readily available by posting them on an internal website. DOE rulemaking staff are expected to meet review schedules and they are rated on their performance, thus the staff are held accountable to the timeframes. In 2009, DOE also streamlined the review and concurrence process for developing and approving rules, including allowing for parallel reviews and, according to the program manager, decreasing the rulemaking timeline by more than 50 percent. DOE further decreased review times in 2010 by creating a leadership stakeholder group responsible for reviewing key policy issues early in the rulemaking cycle. DOE also standardized the information that accompanies rulemaking documents to provide more efficient and effective communication to higher-level reviewers. To provide further transparency to stakeholders outside of the department, DOE puts information on its Web site about the most recent rulemaking action it has taken for each product. According to the program manager, DOE also sends timely notices of planned regulatory actions to stakeholders via email.
Department of Energy 3. To increase the likelihood that DOE's plan for updating minimum energy efficiency standards is successfully implemented, the Secretary of Energy should employ the elements of leading management practices, including allocating adequate resources within DOE's appropriation.
Closed - Implemented
DOE has implemented our recommendation by allocating additional resources to the appliance standards program. Since 2007, DOE has nearly doubled the program staff (from 7 to 13)and increased its budget for contractor support from $10 million/year to $35 million for fiscal year 2011. Also, in 2010, DOE hired a new program manager to improve program management and operations. As a result of these resource increases, in conjunction with process improvements, DOE has made significant progress toward updating the standards that we reported were backlogged.

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