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Eye Opener: Cutting the government's energy bill

By Ed O'Keefe

Eye Opener

Happy Tuesday! What would you do to cut the federal government's energy bill? Lawmakers hope to get a few answers on Wednesday at a Senate hearing designed to assess President Obama's executive order that mandated energy conservation targets for federal agencies.

The federal government spent $24.5 billion on energy costs in fiscal 2008, equal to about eight-tenths of a percent of total federal expenses. Of that sum, $7 billion was spent to power federal buildings. The government's energy usage accounted for roughly 1.5 percent of the nation's energy consumption that year, according to Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), who will chair Wednesday's hearing.

“Reducing the federal government’s energy use is not only good for the environment, it is good for the taxpayer," Carper said. "Since the federal government is America’s largest consumer of energy, agencies can and should make the best use of every dollar they spend on energy.”

Lawmakers will hear from Nancy Sutley, chair of the President's Council on Environmental Quality. She's expected to share examples of what agencies are already doing to increase their energy efficiency and cut gasoline usage in their vehicle fleets, according to a spokeswoman. Other experts will share similar information.

Senators will also consider a Carper proposal to establish chief conservation officers (or CCOs -- not to be confused with CEOs) at each federal agency to help drive down energy consumption.

How can the government can cut its energy consumption? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

Obama's Proposed Budget Freeze: He will propose a three-year freeze on federal spending that is not related to national security, a concession that could dramatically curtail his legislative ambitions. But note: the freeze would only impact $447 billion in spending -- or just 17 percent of the total budget -- and would likely be overtaken by growth in the untouched areas of discretionary spending. Among the departments potentially subject to cuts: Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Energy, Transportation, Agriculture, and Health and Human Services.

The Revolving Door: President Obama taps a DEA administrator and food safety nominee. James A. Collins retires Feb. 1 after 41 years as a mail clerk at the National Institute of Science and Technology. And congrats to former Washington Times blogger and frequent cable news guest Amanda Carpenter, who's headed to Sen. Jim DeMint's office as a senior communications adviser and speechwriter. Who's in? Who's out? Tell The Federal Eye

Cabinet and Staff News: White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel draws fire from the political left as the president falters. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates meets with President Obama and Vice President Biden this afternoon. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke heads to Capitol Hill to shore up support. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke meets with the Russian economic minister today at MIT. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens voices his frustration with recent decisions. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry warned superiors that Afghanistan's president “is not an adequate strategic partner.” The Archivist of the United States, David Ferriero, profiled. Several Cabinet secretaries and lawmakers will show up this week at the D.C. Auto Show. Is Dawn Johnsen's nomination to lead the Office of Legal Counsel in jeopardy thanks to Scott Brown? USAID's Rajiv Shah rallies the Haiti relief response folks. Why does Richard Holbrooke deserve the Nobel Peace Prize?

The women of the CIA: Former spy Valerie Plame Wilson writes about the female officers killed in Demceber in Afghanistan. They "were a testament to the progress made in a historically paternalistic agency."

"Don't Ask Don't Tell" in the State of the Union speech?: One Democratic senator says he thinks a repeal of the policy will get a mention.

In digital combat, U.S. finds no easy deterrent: Earlier this month, top Pentagon leaders gathered to simulate how they would respond to a sophisticated cyberattack aimed at paralyzing the nation’s power grids, its communications systems or its financial networks. The results were dispiriting.

Is tracking stimulus jobs going to get easier?: The head of the federal agency tracking federal stimulus dollars thinks so.

EPA sets stricter air-quality standards near roads: The agency issued the new standard Monday, seven months after first proposing new short-term limits.

Federal subsidy programs top 2,000!: The number of federal subsidy programs soared 21 percent during the 1990s and 40 percent during the 2000s. The entire nation is jumping aboard Washington’s gravy train, writes Cato's Chris Edwards.

Why hasn't the Obama administration lived up to its webby promises?: Four reasons why from Slate's Farhad Manjoo.

In drug war, tribe feels invaded by both sides: By the bad luck of geography, the only large Indian reservation on the embattled border is caught in the middle, emerging as a major transit point for drugs as well as people.

Governments to rely on high-tech security center for Olympics: Staff will occupy the Bellingham, Wash. center 24 hours a day during the games, with federal, state and local personnel working 12-hour shifts in a multiagency system.

Three Guantanamo detainees sent to Slovakia: The detainees arrived there on Sunday. There are still 193 detainees at the prison.

Justice Dept. clears Ticketmaster deal: The decision was greeted with cautious optimism by consumer groups who feared that the combination of the two music giants would stifle competition and lead to higher ticket prices.

National Zoo's panda Tai Shan to return to China on Feb. 4: Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough said Tai will be traveling on a FedEx flight with a panda traveling to China from a zoo in Atlanta. The nonstop flight is scheduled to depart early in the morning from Dulles International Airport.

Florida likely to win high-speed rail grant: The program, funded by the economic-recovery package enacted last year, will be part of the administration's focus on jobs creation in coming weeks.

Cutting the costs of postage stamps: The Postal Service printed $37 billion worth of stamps in fiscal 2008 at a cost of $78 million and the mail agency's watchdog wants ideas on how to cut those costs.

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By Ed O'Keefe  | January 26, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener  
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Federal agencies could require employees to turn out lights in their offices, in common areas, wherever and whenever lighting is not needed. I work for a small Federal agency and I have been trying for five years to get management to pay attention to this issue but we aren't there yet. Congressional and EOP mandate to reduce energy bills would be welcome. It's amazing how Federal employees will waste energy at the office but would not do so in their own home.

Posted by: joycebl | January 26, 2010 6:53 AM | Report abuse

My first thought when I saw the photo of a hand on electric cord was "NO! NO! NO! Never unplug an appliance by pulling on the cord!"

I realize what you are trying to convey with the photo, but you should always unplug an appliance by pulling on the plug. Pulling on the cord, as shown in the photo, can lead to failure of the cord, possibly resulting in shock or fire.

Posted by: MichaelJMurphy | January 26, 2010 6:56 AM | Report abuse

I propose easing the dress code in July and August when it's hottest. For those of us whose jobs require/suggest suits and ties or nice dresses, it would be a welcome relief to be able to come to work in casual clothes like polo shirts, khakis, light tops and skirts. Individual offices would no longer need to be freezing to keep us comfortable. Plus it would set an example for business and perhaps launch a nation-wide "summer casual" movement.

Posted by: econgrrl | January 26, 2010 7:57 AM | Report abuse

Go to a standard four ten hour day work week. Everybody works the same four days thus shuttering buildings for three days instead of two. The extra two hours per day would not increase energy use as a large percentage of buildings are in use by employees for far longer than 10 hours a day.

Posted by: dem4life1 | January 26, 2010 8:25 AM | Report abuse

I like dem4life1's idea - the added benefit of such a program would be to cut traffic coming into the city, which would save the Government workers and contractors a fortune in commuting costs. Cleaner air, lower fuel costs - it makes sense across the board.

My proposal would be even easier to implement - I've worked for four different Government agencies as a contractor, and the IT policy for three of them dictated to leave the PCs in a standby mode when leaving work. The idea being that the IT staff could then upload critical system updates and patches without disrupting the work day. However, these updates don't happen every single night, yet the machines are still burning electricity under the idea that there *might* be an update. I don't see why PCs couldn't just be shutdown completely, and let the patches and updates run in the morning boot-up sequence. It might be an hassle a couple times a year, but would save a fortune in the electric bill.

Posted by: telecomic | January 26, 2010 8:49 AM | Report abuse

Encourage Federal employees to work from home one or more days per week. Telecommuting or flexiplacing would also reduce the number of offices needed by permitting two or more employees to use a single common office on their non-flexiplacing days, which would reduce total energy consumption. Many government managers have opposed telecommuting because they either don’t understand its value or lack trust in their staff. It can also reduce traffic congestion, especially in the Washington, D.C. region.

Posted by: sero1 | January 26, 2010 9:01 AM | Report abuse

Quit flying Obama all over the planet and take away his teleprompter.

Posted by: OldHippie | January 26, 2010 9:32 AM | Report abuse

I agree with "joycebl" about the need to turn off lights in offices and common areas when they're not in use. Private employers should do this as well. I see office buildings lit up late at night and on weekends when there's little likelihood that anyone is working during those hours.

Posted by: Livelongandprosper | January 26, 2010 9:34 AM | Report abuse

By telling EPA employees to turn the lights off when they leave.

Posted by: anarcho-liberal-tarian | January 26, 2010 9:41 AM | Report abuse

If the Administration wants to create jobs, have the feds take over Metro and start working on third and fourth tracks and a circular Beltway line.

Posted by: anarcho-liberal-tarian | January 26, 2010 9:44 AM | Report abuse

We also are REQUIRED to leave our computers running 24/7 so the IT can do updates.
dumb, but then it's IT.

Posted by: gemniii | January 26, 2010 10:36 AM | Report abuse

I appreciate the attempt at irony, but the EPA building at Potomac Yards is an example of what the government can do. The amount of artificial light adjusts to the amount of natural light coming through the windows. The lights are on motion sensors, which allows them to turn off at night. In general, the building gets a gold rating for Energy Star efficiency. More buildings need to be adapted along these lines.

Posted by: kevincostello | January 26, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

Showing my age here, but do federal buildings still turn out every other light as we use to do during teh energy crisis of the 1970's?

How about federal buildings producing some of their own power? ie: Sunshine states, they have solar panels. The windmills being on all buildings, thus contributing the the energy grid in off hours?

The post office is an agency that has spent alot of time, money, and effort in lowering their transportation costs. is this knowledge shared with all other agencies?

I do not agree with the 4 hour work week. People depend on the goverment. You are removing that access one day out of the week. To some people, that can be crutial.

Alot of the other ideas here are great though. turn out the lights. Turn off pc's except for patch nights. Better tempeture control.

Posted by: LiberalBasher | January 26, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

We also are REQUIRED to leave our computers running 24/7 so the IT can do updates.
dumb, but then it's IT.

Posted by: gemniii | January 26, 2010 10:36 AM | Report abuse

know what gemniii.

how about this.

we do the updates during the day. While the updates are occuring, yoru pc will rebooot mutiple times. doesn't matter what work youa are doing.

The reason that updates are performed at night is to lesson the impact onyour work day.

but hey, thats dumb. Thats IT. Trying to make you more productive. I guess you haven't a clue what productivity is all about though. your a moron.

Posted by: LiberalBasher | January 26, 2010 10:55 AM | Report abuse

One of the easiest ways to save money and energy is to mandate not just advocate teleworking. With the technology available now there is no reason why this is not a viable option. Just imagine the need for less square footage of office space because there would be less people at the office on any given day. Sharing a cubicle between two individuals not because of job sharing but because neither individuals would work in the office on same day or for more than three days a week. The result is less energy being consumed by the federal government and money saved because of less energy consumption as well as less of a need for square footage for federal buildings. Yet I must add that a lot of our solutions are here and have been for awhile. The problem has not been having answers to address the issues of savings and energy conservation but the will of the decision makers to actually make it happen.

Posted by: jaja1280 | January 26, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

How about more efficient buildings? Currently I feel a draft coming from my window (not kidding) and it requires my heater (ancient heater with dirty coils) to run constantly. If this were my own home, I would have replaced both the heater and the windows decades ago.

How about only leaving computers on at night one day a week for IT updates?

Posted by: ashdaleuf | January 26, 2010 11:15 AM | Report abuse

In order to save billions, I propose that they disable all heating and air conditioning units for the Capitol Building and the House and Senate office buildings.

Prohibit the military from providing free air travel for all members of Congress. Prohibit all Members of Congress from taking more than one foreign trip per year.

Posted by: alance | January 26, 2010 11:15 AM | Report abuse

The Fed can save energy by unpluging all equipment such as copiers, that are not needed during off hours at the end of the work day and during weekends. Turning off all lights and using energy efficient light bulbs will add to savings. Smart switches that turns off when no one is in the room will be a plus.

Posted by: peanyanwu | January 26, 2010 2:42 PM | Report abuse

Liberalbasher - Our pC's do reboot during the day for security upgrades, costing us 15-30 minutes at a time.

Buying Mac's would eliminate the need for anti-virus software and reduce load times.

Kevin Costello - I work at EPA ARS and my office mates leave the lights on at night all the time. Walk by one night, you'll see.

Posted by: anarcho-liberal-tarian | January 27, 2010 8:48 AM | Report abuse

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