President Carter energy program cannot meet his own conservation goals and should be redrawn in stronger and more realistic terms, the General Accounting Office told Congress yesterday.
The GAO, an investigative arm of Congress, said its findings were based on estimates by the White House's own energy office, and indicate that oil imports in the target year of 1985 will continue to exceed the program's goals by 1 million barrels daily.
"We believe that it is somewhat incongruous to ask the Congress to establish a set of national energy goals and then propose a national energy plan that is not expected to achieve them," Comptroller General Elmer B. Staats, the head of the GAO, said in a six page report delivered to a House Government Operations subcommittee.
Noting that the Carter program relies heavily on voluntary actions that may have to be supplemented later by mandatory measures, the GAO declared:
"Since under the best of circumstances, plans designed to meet goals often fail short, we believe that the plan should be redesigned to provide a reasonable opportunity of achieving the stated goals."
With the letter, the GAO became the second arm of Congress to question the likely success of Carter's energy program, now starting to make its way through the legislative machinery.
The Congressional Budget Office contended last week that the Carter program would cut rather than raise the cost of driving an automobile, encouraging instead of discouraging travel.
The GAO report was released at a hearing on Carter's proposal that the federal government buy 6,000 vans and use them to gt government workers to and from work in Washignton and elsewhere.Rep. John L. Burton (D-Calif.), the subcommittee chairman, called the report "a minor bombshell."
Monte Canfield Jr., director of GAO's energy and minerals divison, told the subcommittee that congressional changes in the Carter program seem likely to dilute it further. GAO's position, he said, is that the program would be more more likely to succeed if it included mandatory provisions at an early stage.
"It is very damn difficult to meet the goals to start with," Canfield said. "Coming back with a more unpopular action at a later date will be exceedingly difficult."
"You are saying we should bite the bullet now?" Rep. Robert S. Walker (R-Pa.) asked.
"We're nibbling on it," Canfield replied.
The GAO auditors criticized Carter's advisers for basing their estimates of energy savings on 1977, a year in which actual consumption is still uncertain, rather than on 1976, where statistics are known. The report said the choice of 1977 would overstate claims of savings in future years.
In comparing Carter's goals with the energy office's predictions, the GAO predicted that oil imports by 1985 will total 7 million barrels a day [LINES ILLEGIBLE]