Federal agencies have been making their vehicle fleets more fuel-efficient in recent years but the number of those vehicles has been growing, a study for Congress has found.


The Government Accountability Office reported that the percentage of agency fleet vehicles using alternatives to conventional gasoline or diesel fuel rose from 14 to 33 percent over 2005-2011. That increase followed a series of laws and directives stretching back 20 years aimed at reducing the government’s fuel consumption.

Some of those directives also sought to reduce the vehicle fleet. However, over the six years ending in 2011, the number of vehicles owned or leased by federal agencies rose from about 420,000 to just under 450,000. The numbers exclude tactical military vehicles as well as the roughly 210,000 vehicles operated by the independent U.S. Postal Service.

Big gainers included the Department of Homeland Security, up about 18,000 to about 56,500, the Army, up about 7,700 to about 78,700, and the Veterans Affairs Department, up about 5,300 to about 16,400. Those three, along with the Air Force, Navy and the Agriculture, Justice and Interior Departments, account for about 80 percent of the federal vehicle fleet.

GAO examined the trends in some agencies and found for example that the VA had expanded its fleet to accommodate veterans who require health care or other services but are not able to drive themselves. The Agriculture Department’s increase was driven in part by acquiring job corps centers from other agencies. Meanwhile, the Air Force and the Interior Department trimmed their fleets through initiatives such as eliminating under-used vehicles and restricting who may use fleet vehicles.

GAO noted that a 2011 order from President Obama called on the government to reduce its use of oil through steps including eliminating non-essential vehicles.

Meanwhile, a report from the American Clean Skies Foundation said that the government, the Postal Service included, spends about 10 times as much on contracted freight transportation as it spends on its own fleet vehicles. In addition, commercial trucks generally are driven far more miles per year on average than federal fleet trucks, it said.

“A concerted effort to use the federal government’s buying power to impact vendor fuel choice and emissions would have a much greater impact on nationwide fuel and vehicle markets than clean energy initiatives limited to the federal fleets,” it said.

The report said that USPS hopes to save up to $350 million and 111 million gallons of fuel a year from an initiative to achieve a 20 percent reduction in petroleum use by its third-party transportation services providers. Achieving that reduction government-wide would produce annual savings of about $7 billion and 3 billion gallons of fuel, it said.