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GAO: Better coordinate energy efficiency efforts

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Efficiency programs might be a little less than efficient themselves, according to a federal report.

The Government Accountability Office last week released a report that found the three primary federal energy efficiency programs are at times duplicative in their shared goal of improving energy efficiency of household appliances and consumer electronics. The three agencies examined were the Department of Energy, the Federal Trade Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency.

"Federal programs to increase the energy efficiency of household appliances and consumer electronics are fragmented and overlapping, with one area of duplication," the GAO reported. "The programs are fragmented in that three federal agencies are addressing the same broad area of national need -- improving energy efficiency. The programs are overlapping in that they target similar users -- consumers. While fragmentation and overlap may result in duplication of resources, GAO found that these three programs are not broadly duplicative because they are not engaged in the same activities and do not provide the same services; however, GAO identified one duplicative activity within Energy Star."

The area in question, the GAO reports, is in testing products for verification that they meet Energy Star criteria. Both the EPA and the DOE manage separate testing programs. In about 1 percent of the cases tested, the products were tested twice in the same year. The EPA does not currently communicate with the DOE until some tests are complete.

"As a result, the agencies cannot ensure that scarce testing resources are maximized, either by eliminating unnecessary duplicative testing, or reallocating resources toward testing additional products," the GAO reported. "To limit the potential for duplication in the current Energy Star verification testing activities, GAO recommends that EPA take steps to better communicate to DOE the models selected for testing so DOE can avoid testing the same ones."

Both agencies agreed the duplications should be minimized, and attempts to remedy the solution were offered to the EPA administrator.

Despite the minor duplications, the GAO largely believes that the three agencies are needed to separately complete their broader duties of energy efficiency.

"Given the differing missions of the programs, we believe they are not broadly duplicative, and that the sum total of the three efforts provides more value than would any one of the three alone," the report states.