Panel Paper: Energy and the Public Purse: Public and Private Actors in the Federal Procurement System

Friday, November 9, 2012 : 1:20 PM
Poe (Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Margaret Taylor, Sydney Fujita, Chris Payne and Andrew Weber, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Government purchasing is a potentially powerful energy conservation policy tool. Effectively designed and implemented, the energy-saving “power of the purse” has the potential to achieve considerable energy-related cost-savings as well as environmental and energy security benefits. It can also serve as an important “demand-pull” policy signal for innovation in energy efficiency, as it increases the certainty that there will be a market for products that out-compete others on this attribute.

Very little is currently known about how effective U.S. law has been in changing the energy-consuming goods and services purchased by the federal sector to make them more efficient, but best estimates are that compliance is less than 50%. This raises questions regarding effective implementation, including: What institutions, actors, and mechanisms are working for and against the purchase of this wide range of goods and services by federal agencies (which exhibit diverse patterns of energy consumption)? What outside pressures either support or distract from enforcing the relevant law? How is compliance tracked?

This paper focuses primarily on the role of the private sector vis-à-vis implementation of current U.S. law, although it draws from a larger research effort to address these issues from the perspective of other actors. Our primary source of data for the larger effort is a set of extended interviews with procurement officials across the federal government (sampling is tied to energy-consumption) which focused on: (1) the system of major actors, purchase methods (i.e., “pathways”), and regulations relevant to federal procurement in a given unit of a given agency; (2) common linkages between energy-consuming goods and services and purchasing pathways; and (3) the suggestions that subjects had for increasing procurement of energy efficient goods and services in the federal government.

As the private sector designs, operates, and collects data on the relevant purchasing pathways, as well as manufactures and supplies the relevant energy-consuming goods and services (whether more or less energy efficient), its role in implementation of U.S. law is rich for exploration. This exploration also offers the potential of a new lens on policy analysis regarding energy and public procurement more broadly, which can be extended to state, local, and international governments.