Federal Energy Management:

Agencies Are Acquiring Alternative Fuel Vehicles but Face Challenges in Meeting Other Fleet Objectives

GAO-09-75R: Published: Oct 22, 2008. Publicly Released: Oct 22, 2008.

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Congress and the administration set forth energy objectives for federal fleets with 20 or more vehicles. Agencies are to (1) acquire alternative fuel vehicles (AFV) as 75 percent of all new light-duty vehicle acquisitions; (2) use only alternative fuel in AFVs, unless granted a waiver; (3) increase overall alternative fuel use by 10 percent annually; (4) reduce petroleum consumption by 2 percent annually through 2015; and (5) purchase plug-in hybrid electric vehicles when available and at a reasonable cost. The first two objectives are requirements in the Energy Policy Acts (EPAct) of 1992 and 2005. The last three are goals set by Executive Order 13423. GAO was asked to determine agencies' compliance with these objectives for fiscal year 2007 and how agencies are poised to meet them in the future. GAO obtained and analyzed information from the Department of Energy's (DOE) automotive database and other sources and interviewed agency officials.

Federal agencies had mixed results in meeting the energy objectives for fleets in fiscal year 2007. First, all the agencies reported meeting or exceeding the requirement to acquire AFVs. However, they did so partly based on receiving credit for AFVs not subject to the requirement, as allowed by the DOE's implementing guidance. For example, AFVs outside large metropolitan areas do not count when agencies establish their acquisition targets, but they do count toward meeting the targets. Second--regarding the requirement to use only alternative fuel in AFVs--neither DOE nor the agencies reported on whether agencies were in compliance with the requirement for fiscal year 2007, even though they are required by law to make such reports. According to agency officials, current systems are unable to track alternative fuel use at the level necessary to assess compliance. However, data from 2006 indicate that agencies primarily fueled their AFVs with gasoline--not alternative fuel--and our analysis found no evidence that this changed in 2007. Data reliability is a concern with respect to the third and fourth objectives. While about half of the agencies reported increasing their alternative fuel use by 10 percent and about two-thirds reported reducing petroleum use by 2 percent in 2007, persistent data problems call these results into question. Finally, no agency acquired plug-in hybrid electric vehicles because they were not commercially available. Over the next few years, agencies will likely face challenges in meeting all but one of the fleet energy objectives. As they have over the past 4 years, agencies will likely continue to acquire the mandated percentage of AFVs. However, they will likely find it more difficult to meet both the requirement to fuel AFVs only with alternative fuel and the goal of increasing overall alternative fuel use by 10 percent annually because of the limited availability of alternative fuel. It is uncertain whether agencies will be able to reduce petroleum consumption annually by 2 percent in the near future, primarily because they will not be able to rely on alternative fuel to displace significant amounts of petroleum fuel. Furthermore, without better data, it will be difficult to judge agencies' progress in reducing petroleum consumption and increasing alternative fuel use. Some agencies have taken steps to address these issues and improve data quality, but with limited success. Finally, agencies will not be able to meet the goal of acquiring plug-in hybrid electric vehicles until they become commercially available.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress has not taken action on this issue.

    Matter: To help agencies more efficiently use their resources to increase use of alternative fuel and decrease use of petroleum, Congress may wish to consider aligning the federal fleet AFV acquisition and fueling requirements with current alternative fuel availability and revising those requirements as appropriate.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to DOE, the agency has continued its efforts to improve data quality associated with alternative fuel use. Specifically, in December 2009, DOE participated in discussions with the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America in an effort to resolve inaccuracies in the coding of alternative fuel purchases. DOE has also has met on an on-going basis with individual fuel providers, who have incorrectly coded alternative fuel purchases in the past, in an effort to resolve coding issues identified in the 2009 GAO report.

    Recommendation: Because it is necessary to have accurate data for determining agencies' progress in increasing alternative fuel use and decreasing petroleum use, the Secretary of Energy and the Administrator of the General Services Administration should continue their ongoing efforts to resolve data quality issues in these areas.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: GSA has not provided documentation of actions taken in response to this recommendation.

    Recommendation: Because it is necessary to have accurate data for determining agencies' progress in increasing alternative fuel use and decreasing petroleum use, the Secretary of Energy and the Administrator of the General Services Administration should continue their ongoing efforts to resolve data quality issues in these areas.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: We recommended that DOE disallow AFV credits for vehicles not subject to the AFV acquisition requirement because the credits incentivized agencies to acquire AFVs that were expensive, fuel inefficient, and unlikely to be operated on alternative fuel. Consequently, the credits were not furthering the government's sustainability objectives of decreasing vehicle petroleum consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. In response, DOE revised its guidance by expanding the list of vehicles qualifying as alternative fuel vehicles to include low greenhouse gas emitting vehicles, as defined by EPA. According to DOE, because this change incentivizes agencies to acquire the most fuel-efficient vehicles of any fuel type, it should result in lower petroleum consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by the federal fleet. Because DOE's action is aimed at the same effect as our recommendation--furthering the government's energy objectives--we consider the action to have addressed our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To provide information that more transparently captures agencies' compliance with the AFV acquisition requirement, the Secretary of Energy should revise its implementation guidance to disallow AFV credits for AFVs not subject to the acquisition requirement.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Since our October 2008 report and recommendation, DOE has twice reported on agencies' compliance with Section 701 of EPAct 2005, which requires federal agencies to operate all dual-fueled alternative fuel vehicles on alternative fuel unless they have applied for and received a waiver(s) from DOE. In December 2008, DOE issued "Federal Fleet Compliance with EPACT and E.O. 13423," which contains the aforementioned data for fiscal year 2007. DOE's website additionally contains a memo and table detailing federal fleets' compliance with Section 701 of EPAct 2005 for fiscal year 2008. DOE's 2 years of reported annual data on agencies' compliance with the alternative fueling requirements constitute implementation of our recommendation. In October 2009, agencies' reporting requirements for fleets changed--they were combined with those for facilities by E.O. 13514. The order calls for agencies to report annually to OMB on, among other things, their compliance with fleet energy requirements such as the alternative fueling requirement. OMB issues annual Energy and Sustainability scorecards for each agency that include an overall score for the agency's progress in meeting fleet petroleum reduction requirements.

    Recommendation: To accurately determine the progress agencies are making in meeting the requirement to use only alternative fuel in their AFVs, the Secretary of Energy should report annually on agencies' compliance with the alternative fueling requirement of the EPAct.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

 

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