GAO pushes for better federal green IT efforts

By Diana Manos
09:55 AM

A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says the federal government has made progress on green IT, but it hasn't gone far enough. The report is calling on the White House to measure and set green IT performance goals for federal agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services.

Congress called on GAO to conduct the study of federal green IT efforts because the government's "substantial use" of IT contributes significantly to federal agencies' energy use and environmental impact.

Earlier studies have shown that federal agencies spend about $440.4 million per year on unnecessary printing. The GAO noted that in the non-federal sector, a major IT equipment company implemented managed print services that reportedly reduced the number of printers by 47 percent globally, cut per-page print costs by up to 90 percent, and saved more than $3 million in 2 years in the United States alone.

Presidential executive orders in 2007 and 2009 called for federal agencies to increase their green IT-related requirements. These requirements included:

  • acquiring electronic products that meet certain environmental standards;

  • extending the useful life of electronic equipment;

  • implementing power management on computers;

  • and managing federal data centers in a more energy efficient manner.

Under the executive orders, federal agencies are also required to designate senior sustainability officers and develop performance plans for green IT.

[See also: Green IT a growing opportunity for vendors.]

The GAO said the six agencies it reviewed for the report – the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Energy and Health and Human Services; the Environmental Protection Agency; and the General Services Administration – have developed sustainability performance plans and taken additional steps to implement the executive orders requirements.

But, GAO officials said, agencies have not established baselines or developed performance targets for green IT. "This is in part because the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and a key White House council – the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) – have not developed specific guidance on establishing performance measures for green IT efforts," according to the GAO report. "Without such guidance, the effectiveness of these efforts and their contribution to overall federal sustainability goals will remain unclear."

GAO also identified a number of leading practices used by federal, state and local government and private-sector organizations that are relevant to green IT. These practices include enhanced leadership, dedicated funding, prioritization of efforts, and improved employee training, as well as acquiring IT equipment with the highest energy efficiency ratings; consolidating equipment and services; reducing use of paper; and using new, more efficient computers.

[See also: Green technology spurs energy efficiency for surgical suites.]

OMB and CEQ officials said they "partially concur" with GAO's recommendations. They agreed to encourage the use of leading green IT practices, but did not agree that additional guidance was needed for measuring performance.

The full GAO report can be found here.

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