GAO finds federal energy efficiency programs need better coordination

By Laura D’Alessandro

A recent report from the Government Accountability Office found that the three key federal energy efficiency programs may not be efficiently administered.

According to the March 28 report, the three major federal energy efficiency programs are “fragmented and overlapping.” The report focused on the programs administered by the Department of Energy, the Federal Trade Commission and the Environmental Protection agency which share the goal of improving the energy efficiency of selected categories of household appliances and consumer electronics.

The three federal programs examined— DOE’s minimum energy standards, the FTC’s EnergyGuide and EPA’s Energy Star—take different approaches to the same broad goal. The minimum efficiency standards, for example, establish a national minimum level of energy efficiency for selected categories of products to eliminate the least efficient products from the marketplace. Similarly, Energy Star identifies the most efficient models within a given category of products. The scope of products covered by the programs varies.

While the report found that the agencies’ programs are not broadly duplicative, it did find one instance of duplication within the Energy Star program. The EPA and DOE test products for verification that they meet Energy Start criteria separately. In 1 percent of cases tested, products were tested twice in the same year. The EPA and DOE do not communicate until some tests are complete, the report said. As a result, the agencies cannot ensure that scarce testing resources are maximized, the report said.

To limit further duplication in verifying Energy Start products, the GAO recommended the EPA take steps to better communicate with DOE on models selected for testing so DOE can avoid testing the same ones. The EPA, however, disagreed with the draft recommendation and said it could be labor intensive to implement. The GOA revised the recommendation to clarify EPA’s flexibility in implementing it, the report said.