New law would require better training in building energy management

Republican Susan Collins of Maine co-sponsored the bill. Republican Susan Collins of Maine co-sponsored the bill. Bill Clark/Newscom
The House on Wednesday passed bipartisan legislation to ensure that federal officials and contractors have the training and resources necessary to operate government buildings in the most energy-efficient manner.

The 2010 Federal Buildings Personnel Training Act passed the House by a voice vote. The Senate passed the bill by unanimous consent in July. The measure now will move to President Obama's desk for signature.

The act requires the administrator of the General Services Administration, with the assistance of relevant industry associations and professional societies, to identify core competencies that all federal buildings personnel must possess to operate and manage government facilities. The measure also applies to government contractors assisting with operations and maintenance.

"You wouldn't give a race car to an inexperienced driver and expect them to win the Indy 500," said Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., chairman of the subcommittee on federal financial management and one of the lead sponsors of the bill. "In the same way, we can't expect our federal buildings to run at peak efficiency if we don't provide our personnel with the training required to make that happen. This is just a first step to managing our nation's federal property and buildings in a more practical and cost-efficient manner."

The measure requires GSA to work with industry officials and universities to create comprehensive continuing education courses in studies such as energy management, sustainability, water efficiency, safety (including electrical safety) and building performance measures. Federal and contracting officials would have one year to demonstrate a competency in those areas either through course work, certification, licensing or mandated registration.

Within 18 months, GSA and the Energy Department also will develop a recommended curriculum related to facility management and the operation of high-performance green buildings.

"This bipartisan bill will help deliver both by cutting federal energy costs and helping train our workforce for good paying jobs utilizing cutting-edge, green technologies," said Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Ill., who serves as co-chair of the Congressional High-Performance Building Caucus and co-sponsored the House bill with Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-Mo. "The Federal Buildings Personnel Training Act is a smart investment in human energy that will benefit our environment and allow the federal government to lead by example in the rapidly developing field of high-performance building design and maintenance."

The federal government is the largest property owner and energy user in the country, with an inventory that includes 1.2 million buildings, structures and land parcels, according to the Office of Management and Budget. In fiscal 2008, the energy bill for the government was $24.5 billion, or nearly 1 percent of total federal expenditures. Of that figure, more than $7 billion was spent on energy to operate federal buildings.

But, government officials have complained that many public and private sector employees lack the qualifications and training needed to manage federal buildings in the most energy-efficient way.

"The result is a decline in the expected life cycle of federal buildings and equipment," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and a co-sponsor of the Senate bill.

An October 2009 report by the Government Accountability Office found that a lack of proper expertise and training was a major challenge for the federal government in reaching its energy reduction goals. An International Facilities Management Association study also showed that for every $1 spent on facility management training, organizations reported receiving an average of $3.95 in return.

GSA announced plans in September to reduce energy consumption in federal buildings by one third by increasing renewable energy generation and reducing fleet petroleum consumption by 30 percent, reducing emissions from employee commuting and business travel by 25 percent, and diverting at least half of GSA's nonhazardous waste from landfills. The agency previously had announced a long-term goal developing a zero environmental footprint.

"Federal buildings have [served] and should serve as leading examples of sustainability and high performance and use taxpayer dollars responsibly by ensuring these buildings perform at peak efficiency" said Bryan Howard, legislative director at U.S. Green Building Council.

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