Obama Administration Orders $210M Worth of Fuel Efficient Vehicles

Obama Administration Orders $210M Worth of Fuel Efficient Vehicles

Making good on U.S. President Barack Obama's promise to accelerate the greening of the federal fleet, the U.S. General Services Administration has ordered 14,105 fuel efficient vehicles this month and will use $210 million in Recovery Act money to pay for them.

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The GSA said yesterday that it ordered the vehicles from General Motors, Chrysler and Ford last week, bringing the total of greener cars ordered since April to 17,205 and the total spending to $287 million.

"GSA is committed to spending Recovery dollars quickly and wisely," Commissioner James A. Williams of GSA's Federal Acquisition Service said in a statement. "Simultaneously, we are focused on acquiring vehicles that will provide long-term environmental benefits and savings by increasing the fuel efficiency of the federal fleet."

On March 30, Obama directed his administration to purchase about 17,600 commercially available, fuel efficient vehicles from American auto companies by June 1, to use funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act -- and to get the job done swiftly to boost the nation's auto industry and replace aging vehicles with greener ones.

Just days later the White House said, "The GSA moved faster than any time in its history to launch this aggressive fleet purchase strategy."

On the eve of tax day, the GSA ordered 3,100 fuel efficient hybrid vehicles, worth $77 million. With the $210 million in orders made on June 1, the tally of hybrid and other fuel efficient cars and costs now stands at:

• 2,933 Chrysler vehicles for $53 million
• 7,924 Ford vehicles for $129 million
• 6,348 General Motors vehicles for $105 million

The total cost of $287 million is $2 million more than the GSA had projected it would spend, and the yield -- 17,205 vehicles -- is 395 shy of the projected amount of vehicles the agency had planned to order.

However, the GSA's order of 3,100 hybrid electric vehicles in April was 600 more units than the 2,500 that the agency had planned for its car shopping list.

The GSA did not specify the types, models or mpg ratings for the fuel efficient vehicles that made up the order in June. In detailing the president's directive earlier this year, the White House said each vehicle should have a higher mpg rating than the one it replaces, and the overall goal for the purchase is at least a 10 percent increase in fuel efficiency for the entire procurement.

The federal fleet will get another bump by September 30, which is the agency's deadline for ordering $15 million worth of advanced technology buses and electric vehicles.

The news of the vehicle orders is "good for our economy, good for our workers, and good for our environment," Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement released today. "Because this will increase the fuel efficiency of the federal fleet, it's also good for the American taxpayer."

Word of progress by the feds on the green car front came as the "cash for clunkers bill," H.R. 2751, passed on a strong bipartisan vote on Tuesday. The legislation would allow consumers to trade in their old, gas-guzzling vehicles and receive vouchers worth as much as $4,500 to help pay for new, more fuel efficient cars and trucks. Pelosi spoke in favor of the bill yesterday on the House floor.

While the drive to transform the federal fleet moves ahead, the U.S. Government Accountability Office cautions its federal colleagues to proceed with care when considering next-generation vehicles.

In a 53-page report released this month on federal energy and fleet management (PDF), the GAO concluded that "plug-in vehicles offer potential benefits, but high costs and limited information could hinder integration into the federal fleet."

"As federal agencies work to cost-effectively comply with requirements and goals for conserving energy in their facilities and vehicle fleets, a number of uncertainties hinder their efforts," the GAO report said. "Although, by making statutory requirements, Congress signified the importance of acquiring alternative fuel vehicles, using alternative fuel, decreasing petroleum use, decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, and improving energy efficiency in facilities, the requirements can be costly and are sometimes in conflict. As a result, agencies are uncertain about setting priorities and struggle to meet the overall intent of these requirements and goals."

The GAO said the Department of Energy should "in consultation with other agencies -- propose legislative changes to resolve conflicts among energy and vehicle acquisition requirements. GAO also recommends DOE and the General Services Administration provide guidance to help agencies make decisions about acquiring plug-ins." The GSA concurred; the DOE did not comment, the GAO said.

In terms of evaluating vehicles for environmental impacts, new research has indicated a difference in opinion about how to assess emissions.

For example, on a per passenger basis, diesel buses running during off-peak periods are more carbon-intensive than airplanes, according to a report by researchers from the University of California at Berkeley that was published Monday in Environmental Research Letters.

The report, whose title also sums its conclusion: "Environmental Assessment of Passenger Transportation Should Include Infrastructure and Supply Chains," says decision-makers must consider lifecycle energy use and emissions to "appropriately mitigate environmental impacts from transportation."

Traditional methods for assessing emissions -- and the standards that are derived from those measurements -- often focus on tailpipe emissions rather than the broader assessment recommended by the UC Berkeley researchers.

Image CC licensed by Beard Papa