Today, Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Scott Brown (R-Mass.) highlighted a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that details the federal government's progress in making its information technology (IT) assets more environmentally sustainable. The report notes that while agencies have take initial steps to 'green' federal IT, their effectiveness can't be tracked because of a lack of performance information and guidance.
Executive statements signed by Presidents Bush and Obama in 2007 and 2009, respectively, assigned responsibility to federal agencies for increasing their environmental sustainability, including making IT more 'green'. These requirements include buying electronic products that meet certain environmental standards, extending the useful life of electronic equipment, better managing computer energy use, and managing federal data centers in a more energy efficient manner.
The GAO found that six agencies -- 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. However, the study found that the overall effectiveness of the agencies' efforts cannot be measured because key performance information is not available, in part because the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) have not developed specific guidance on establishing performance measures for green IT efforts. Without such guidance, the effectiveness of these efforts and their contribution to overall federal sustainability goals will remain unclear.
"Vince Lombardi once said if you're not keeping score, you're just practicing," said Sen. Carper. "This report from the Government Accountability Office shows that while we may have a good game plan for making information technology in the federal government more environmentally sustainable, nobody is keeping score. I hope the White House, the Council on Environmental Quality, and federal agencies will take this report to heart and redouble their efforts to ensure that federal information technology is more environmentally sustainable. We're just practicing if meaningful metrics and guidance are not developed to reach the ambitious environmental goals for federal information technology laid out by the President and Congress."
"With the government spending more than $80 billon on IT each year, we owe it to the taxpayers to make sure they are operating at a high level of efficiency," said Sen. Brown. "The GAO report demonstrates that there is more work to be done to ensure that tax dollars are being used effectively and in an environmentally-friendly manner, and I will continue working with my colleagues on the committee to hold the government accountable."
Also in its study, the GAO 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. According to the GAO study, a 2009 survey of federal employees, found that agencies spend about $440.4 million per year on unnecessary printing. However, 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.