Federal Energy and Water Management: Agencies Report Mixed Success in Meeting Efficiency Requirements, and Additional Data Are Needed

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What GAO Found

According to data from fiscal year 2021, federal agencies have a mixed record meeting the six energy and water efficiency requirements that GAO reviewed. There are 27 agencies that use the Department of Energy (DOE) Compliance Tracking System to report data on their performance in meeting these requirements. These data show that most agencies met, or almost met, two of the requirements and did not meet one requirement. GAO could not determine whether agencies fully met the other three requirements due to a lack of data, either because the implementation deadline had not passed and there were not yet available data, or because DOE does not track performance (see table).

Specifically, DOE does not track whether agencies entered water use data into a benchmarking system or followed up on implemented energy and water efficiency and conservation measures (ECM) within 4 years, as called for by DOE guidance. As a result, decision makers cannot be certain that agency officials are benchmarking water use data and measuring energy and water savings from implemented ECMs. Without tracking performance on these requirements, Congress cannot know the extent to which agencies have the data they need to make effective decisions to improve energy and water efficiency.

Agencies’ Performance in Meeting Six Energy and Water Efficiency Requirements, Fiscal Year 2021

RequirementNumber of agencies that met requirementPercent of agencies that met requirement
Identify covered facilities constituting at least 75 percent of facility energy or water use24 of 2788.9
Designate energy managers for covered facilities24 of 2788.9
Conduct evaluations at covered facilities every 4 years, subject to exception1 of 273.7
Enter data into a benchmarking system
Enter energy use data into a benchmarking system7 of 2725.9
Enter water use data into a benchmarking systemAgency performance not tracked
Implement energy and water conservation measuresAgency performance not yet available
Follow up on energy and water conservation measuresAgency performance not tracked
Note: Data are as of August 24, 2022. This table summarizes relevant requirements from 42 U.S.C. § 8253(f) and DOE guidance. For more details, see table 1 in this report. Source: GAO analysis of Department of Energy (DOE) Compliance Tracking System data. | GAO-23-105673

Officials GAO interviewed from selected agencies cited varied successes and challenges to meeting each of the six requirements, but the two most frequently cited were the success of using automated or centralized data and the challenge of insufficient resources. For example, agency officials told GAO that automated data allowed them to automatically upload data into a benchmarking system, rather than entering the data manually. Conversely, officials told GAO that insufficient funding or staffing made meeting the requirements challenging. Officials from one agency explained that they must conduct evaluations at agency facilities in remote locations. This makes evaluations more resource-intensive because of the time and expense of sending staff to those locations.

Why GAO Did This Study

The federal government is the single largest energy consumer in the United States. In fiscal year 2021, its roughly 350,000 buildings used more than 344 trillion Btu of energy and 119 billion gallons of water, according to DOE data. For decades, the federal government has taken steps to improve energy and water efficiency at federal facilities, including through laws and executive orders. In particular, six requirements from section 432 of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, as amended, relate to the use of energy and water efficiency measures in federal facilities.

GAO was asked to review issues related to agency compliance with these energy and water efficiency requirements. This report examines (1) the extent to which agencies are complying with the six energy and water efficiency requirements and (2) the successes and challenges that selected agencies have encountered in their efforts toward meeting these requirements.

GAO reviewed DOE data on agency performance in meeting requirements; interviewed officials from six federal agencies, selected in part for facility size and energy use; and conducted a literature review.

America underwater: Extreme floods expose the flaws in FEMA’s risk maps

Read the full story in the Washington Post.

This year, extreme precipitation deluged communities across the United States — a hallmark risk of a warming climate. Government flood-insurance maps often left residents unprepared for the threat. A Washington Post analysis of videos taken by people who endured destruction from flooding pinpoints how federal maps are failing to reflect the growing peril that Americans face.

Energy Department rule would cut government building emissions 90 percent

Read the full story at The Hill.

A new proposed rule from the Biden administration would cut emissions from new federal buildings 90 percent from 2003 levels in the next two years.

Under the proposed rule, new or renovated federal buildings would be required to reduce emissions from the 2003 baseline by 90 percent beginning in 2025. Beginning in 2030, the rule would make new buildings and major renovations fully carbon-neutral, according to the Energy Department.

Federal Research and Development: Funding Has Grown Since 2012 and Is Concentrated Within a Few Agencies

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What GAO Found

Federal research and development (R&D) funding has increased since 2012—most recently because of COVID-19 stimulus funding. Five agencies obligated the majority of federal R&D funding with the Departments of Defense (DOD) and Health and Human Services (HHS) accounting for nearly 80 percent in fiscal year 2021 (see figure). HHS has mainly funded research, while DOD mainly funds development. However, HHS has become a major funder of development in recent years because of COVID-19 stimulus funding. HHS averaged less than 1 percent in development funding through fiscal year 2019 but reported 37 percent of its R&D obligations were for development in fiscal year 2021. Of the estimated $179.5 billion in federal R&D obligations in fiscal year 2021, about two-thirds went to organizations outside the federal government. In fiscal year 2021, industry, universities, and colleges received the majority of these external R&D obligations—almost $90 billion.

Federal Research and Development Obligations, Fiscal Year 2021

Federal Research and Development Obligations, Fiscal Year 2021
Note: FY 2021 data are estimates provided by federal agencies to the National Science Foundation.

Federal funding also includes four multi-agency initiatives in areas identified as having long-term national importance, such as quantum information science and nanotechnology. These initiatives coordinate activities in areas that are too broad or complex to be addressed by one agency alone. For example, more than 60 agencies participate in an initiative on network and information technology, which includes investments in artificial intelligence and machine learning. Not all participating agencies contribute funding to such initiatives. Funding for these initiatives increased over the previous decade, and accounted for roughly $14 billion in fiscal year 2020, just under 9 percent of the total federal R&D budget.

Why GAO Did This Study

Scientific and technological innovation are critical to long-term U.S. economic competitiveness, prosperity, and national security. The U.S. has long been a global leader in advancing the frontiers of science and technology. Increased competition from other countries has led some experts to express concern that the U.S. may be losing its competitive edge in certain technologies. Agencies are investing in various R&D initiatives, including those that are of strategic national importance, such as network and information technology, nanotechnology, quantum information science, and global environmental changes.

This report describes (1) trends in federal R&D funding over the last 10 years and (2) the funding and organization for selected multi-agency R&D initiatives, among other objectives.

To address these objectives, GAO analyzed data published by the National Science Foundation on annual R&D expenditures and examined Office of Management and Budget (OMB) data. GAO also reviewed agency documentation and collected written responses to structured questions on federal R&D from the Chief Financial Officer or budget office from the five agencies that fund most R&D.

In addition, GAO interviewed officials from OMB and the Office of Science and Technology Policy, including the Directors of the National Coordination Offices for selected multi-agency R&D initiatives, which are coordinated under the auspices of the National Science and Technology Council.

For more information, contact Candice N. Wright at (202) 512-6888 or wrightc@gao.gov.

Proposed Climate Risk and Resilience Rule for Federal Contractors: A Roundtable Discussion

Via Ceres.

The Biden Administration has proposed another important climate policy. The recent Federal Supplier Climate Risks and Resilience Proposed Rule, released by the Federal Acquisition Regulatory (FAR) Council on November 10, would create new responsibilities and opportunities for large federal suppliers. Under the proposal, federal contractors, depending on the volume of contracts with the federal government, would be required to publicly disclose greenhouse gas emissions. The largest contractors would be asked to establish science-based emissions reduction targets and other strategies for reducing climate-related financial risk. This proposal seeks to implement the directives in Biden’s May 2021 Executive Order on climate risk and December 2021 Sustainability Plan.

The FAR Council—composed of the White House’s Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP), General Services Administration (GSA), Department of Defense (DOD), and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)—will accept comments on the proposal through Friday, January 13, 2023. The U.S. government is the largest purchaser of goods and services in the world and has a long track record of helping commercialize innovative technologies. The rule has significant potential to create new opportunities for forward-leaning companies, accelerate the decarbonization of the economy and improve transparency on corporate climate action.

This roundtable recording unpacks the details of the proposal, identifies its implications for government contractors, offers perspectives from key stakeholders, and provides recommendations for your own comment submission.

Featuring:

  • Moderator: Steven Rothstein, Managing Director, Ceres Accelerator for Sustainable Capital Markets
  • Sarah O’Brien, CEO, Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council
  • John Kostyack, Ceres Consultant
  • Andrew Mayock, Federal Chief Sustainability Officer, The White House
  • Ruth Cox, Principal, RFC Enterprises
  • Anand Narasimhan, General Manager, Cloud Supply Chain Sustainability, Microsoft
  • Steve Ellis, President, Taxpayers for Common Sense

Biden’s zero-emission government fleet starts with USPS

Read the full story in the Washington Post.

The grandest experiment of the government’s sprint to electrify its vehicle fleet is happening here, a 1 million-square-foot warehouse leased by the U.S. Postal Service in the outer reaches of Atlanta.

As the White House pushes public agencies and big business to slash greenhouse gas emissions, it is leaning on the Postal Service to step up the pace to meet President Biden’s directive to ensure all new government-owned vehicles are EVs by 2035. And, after a hard-won $3 billion infusion from Congress to jump-start its transition, the first of the agency’s 34,000 zero-emission mail trucks will begin rolling out next year.

Most of those funds, according to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, will remedy a massive and widely underappreciated challenge in the green migration: the arduous and costly build-out of EV infrastructure, from gargantuan new buildings to thousands of charging stations.

Biden pushes to require big federal contractors to cut climate pollution

Read the full story in the Washington Post.

The Biden administration on Thursday will propose requiring all major federal contractors to set targets for reducing their emissions in line with the 2015 Paris climate accord, a significant step toward greening the government’s sprawling operations and onethat could ripple across the U.S. supply chain.

Federal Fisheries Management: Overfishing Determinations Vary Across Regions, and Data Challenges Complicate Management Efforts

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What GAO Found

GAO’s analysis of National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) data found that the number of fish stocks assessed for 2011 through 2020 varied by the six NMFS regional fisheries science centers and that many stocks were not assessed. For example, on average, the Southeast Science Center assessed about 10 percent of the 153 stocks it supported each year, while the Alaska Science Center assessed about 78 percent of its 64 stocks.

NMFS uses these assessments to support management, including determining whether a stock is in overfishing or is overfished. GAO found that the number of stocks in these statuses varied by science center and that many stocks had an unknown status (see fig. for overfishing information). Challenges inherent in collecting fisheries data, along with resource challenges, affected the availability and quality of the data. For example, trawl surveys, which are used to collect fisheries data, are challenging and costly to conduct over large geographic areas. These challenges were a key source of the variability in the number of stocks assessed and one of the reasons why many stocks may have unknown status.

Average Annual Number of Fish Stocks Experiencing Overfishing and Average Number with an Unknown Overfishing Status, by National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Fisheries Science Centers for 2011 through 2020
Average Annual Number of Fish Stocks Experiencing Overfishing and Average Number with an Unknown Overfishing Status, by National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Fisheries Science Centers for 2011 through 2020

Note: Some science centers are jointly responsible for assessing a fish stock. The averages do not total the amount noted in the report, due to rounding. A fish stock is a fish species or stock complex, which is a group of stocks similar enough to be managed as a single unit.

In reviewing NMFS’ stock assessment and status data, GAO identified issues with the Species Information System database that prevented conducting certain multiyear trend analyses. NMFS has not documented these structural limitations or developed general guidelines for how to complete such analyses. NMFS officials noted that such analyses can be useful for tracking changes in stock status, as well as the frequency with which individual fish stocks have been assessed over time. NMFS is working on two projects to improve the functionality of the database. The plans for these projects do not include key project management elements, such as written goals and timelines. Developing a plan that includes these elements could help ensure completion of the projects and help NMFS conduct additional analyses that could be used to support management measures to prevent overfishing and manage overfished stocks.

Why GAO Did This Study

Commercial and recreational marine fisheries are a critical part of our nation’s economy. These fisheries contributed $118 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product and supported 1.8 million jobs in 2019. NMFS and eight Regional Fishery Management Councils (Council) are responsible for managing about 460 fish stocks in federal waters. This includes minimizing the extent to which stocks experience overfishing or become overfished. Overfishing occurs when the number of fish caught is above a certain threshold; a stock becomes overfished when its population is deemed to be too low.

GAO was asked to review federal efforts to prevent overfishing and manage overfished stocks. Among other things, this report examines the number of stock assessments conducted from 2011 to 2020, along with the number and status of overfishing and overfished stocks during this period. GAO reviewed NMFS policies and documents; interviewed NMFS regions, Councils, and relevant stakeholders based on factors such as familiarity with different regions of the United States; and analyzed data from NMFS’ Species Information System database.

Recommendations

GAO is making two recommendations to NMFS on the structural limitations of the Species Information System database, including developing guidelines for conducting certain multiyear analyses, as well as incorporating leading practices into its database improvement plans. The agency agreed with GAO’s recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency AffectedRecommendationStatus
National Marine Fisheries ServiceThe Assistant Administrator for NMFS should develop written documentation of the structural limitations of the Species Information System database, as well as general guidelines on how to conduct the manual editing needed for multiyear trend analysis and reporting purposes. (Recommendation 1)When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
National Marine Fisheries ServiceThe Assistant Administrator for NMFS should develop a written plan for executing the Species Information System database improvement projects, including the project goals, the procedures to be followed, a timeline for completion, and a schedule for providing status updates. (Recommendation 2)When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

Climate Change: Enhancing Federal Resilience

Download the document and see the related story at Smart Cities Dive.

To reduce federal fiscal exposure to climate change, the federal government needs a cohesive, strategic approach, with strong leadership and the authority to manage risks.

Federal government to prioritize US-made, lower-carbon construction materials

Read the full story from The Hill.

The U.S. government will for the first time prioritize the use of American-made, lower-carbon construction materials in federal procurement and federally funded projects, the General Services Administration (GSA) announced on Tuesday.

To realize this goal, the GSA has issued a request for information about the availability of domestically manufactured, locally sourced “low-embodied-carbon” materials — or those that generate fewer carbon emissions during the process of constructing a building.

The move is part of the Biden administration’s Federal Buy Clean Initiative, which aims to stimulate markets for low-carbon products made in the U.S., according to the GSA.