5 Action Steps for GSA to Lead a National Mobilization to Defeat the Climate Crisis

Biden’s GSA Pick, Robin Carnahan, has a mandate for green procurement.

Evergreen Action
5 min readApr 8, 2021

As the next GSA Administrator, Robin Carnahan will be tasked with the decarbonization of one of the largest sectors of the economy — the U.S. government. President Biden has already taken important steps to reduce the federal government’s carbon pollution, including committing to electrifying the federal fleet, and in her new role, Carnahan can ensure the administration continues to lead by example in their national effort to defeat the climate crisis.

The federal government is the single largest consumer of energy in the country, which is why strong climate leadership from GSA will have tremendous downstream effects across the country. GSA is responsible for over 645,000 vehicles on the road, producing a huge amount of carbon pollution that must be reduced through electrification. GSA is also the country’s biggest landlord, and Carnahan’s GSA should work to eliminate fossil fuel use in the nearly 350,000 buildings it oversees.

Former Missouri Secretary of State Carnahan will also oversee much of the half-trillion dollars the federal government spends annually spent on goods and services. The new GSA administrator must coordinate closely with OMB to lead a Buy Clean, Buy Fair initiative in federal procurement; requiring transparency and disclosure for climate and environmental impacts and labor practices. With these steps, the GSA can generate impactful changes in public spending and incentivize the private sector to join an all-out mobilization to defeat the climate crisis.”

In order to realize Biden’s climate mandate, every federal agency must become a climate agency. The General Services Administration will be critical in this effort. As we did with 20 other federal agencies, today, Evergreen Action is releasing 5 concrete actions that this GSA must deliver in the all-out government mobilization to defeat the climate crisis:

1. Electrify the Federal Fleet

The GSA manages the federal vehicle fleet, controlling the purchase, maintenance, and sale of hundreds of thousands of cars, trucks, buses, and other motor vehicles. As of 2019, only 4,475 of the more than 645,000 vehicles in the federal fleet — less than .7% — were electric. The next GSA Administrator must set clear targets to fully electrify the federal vehicle fleet, included with accelerated fleet turnover, and ensure that by 2023 that all new federal vehicle purchases and leases are for zero-emission vehicles, as called for in the Evergreen Action Plan. Through the FEDFLEET Council, the Administrator should coordinate with client agencies to set tailored benchmarks across the executive branch. President Biden’s January 27th Executive Order made this a priority. Now, GSA must deliver.

2. Deploy Clean Energy Technologies in Federal Buildings

The next Administrator should work to rapidly shift to higher-impact carbon-free federal electricity procurement, as called for by Evergreen Action, Clean Air Task Force, and others, and as the Biden administration committed to in the American Jobs Plan. Under new leadership the GSA should also expand itsProving Ground program, which tests innovative pre- and early-commercial building technologies in federally-owned buildings. Past Proving Ground innovations have already employed sophisticated software to improve energy management efficiency, and 23 GPG-evaluated technologies have been deployed in more than 500 facilities in GSA’s real-estate portfolio. GSA should also work with the Department of Energy to finalize a rule to eliminate fossil-fuel use in all new and renovated federal buildings starting in 2023. The next Administrator should also expand the National Deep Energy Retrofit (NDER) program. In 2014, NDER invested $172 million in revenue-neutral Energy Savings Performance Contracts (ESPCs), which allow federal agencies to partner with energy service companies to complete energy savings projects without upfront capital costs or Congressional appropriations. The NDER projects generated a first-year cost savings of $10.8 million — which will be used to pay back the investment over time — and an average 38.2% energy savings over baselines. NDER has languished under the Trump administration, but the program now presents an opportunity for GSA, as the nation’s biggest landlord, to more widely adopt ESPCs and single-handedly finance the development of a nationwide retrofitting movement.

3. Enhance Building-Grid Integration

The next Administrator should follow the GSA Green Building Advisory Committee’s recommendation that federal buildings implement two-way grid measures that fortify against supply and demand disruptions while leveraging new opportunities for efficiency, resilience, and distributed energy generation. The Obama administration successfully directed massive investments into smart grid development, while the GSA has already opened multiple Requests for Information on grid resiliency and power storage. By adopting integrated grid technology in federally-owned buildings across the country, the GSA would build on that progress and put the federal government on the cutting edge of clean energy transmission and climate resilience.

4. Direct Federal Purchasing Power to Support the Clean Economy Transition

GSA works with the White House Office of Management & Budget (OMB) to manage procurement for the federal government, and sets internal policies to guide its buying practices. The next Administrator should work with OMB to lead a Buy Clean, Buy Fair initiative in federal procurement — requiring transparency and disclosure for products’ climate and environmental impacts, and the labor practices of those receiving contracts from the government’s $500 billion in annual purchasing power. It should also direct investments in energy efficiency technologies through widespread use of energy savings performance contracts. Such initiatives are strongly backed by unions, environmentalists, and domestic manufacturing firms, and will support American manufacturing and infrastructure jobs with high labor standards building low-carbon technologies.

5. Ensure Federal Buildings Enhance Climate Resilience

GSA should take the lead on resilience measures in federal buildings around the country. The next Administrator should take advantage of the Distributed Energy Program to build distributed solar generation on federal facilities, work with DOE to leverage those distributed energy resources for microgrids that can serve communities when electric utility power is interrupted, and pilot energy storage projects through the Proving Ground program. Ambitious deployment of these resilience technologies would serve the triple purposes of modeling effective climate adaptation, driving investments in clean power infrastructure, and enhancing the resilience of the communities where federal buildings receive these upgrades. The next Administrator should make this resilience buildup a priority for federal facilities everywhere.