GAO Questions Smart Building Investments

There is little reliable information on the costs and benefits of “smart building” investments being pursued by GSA to better identify system problems in federal buildings, a GAO report has said.

Such technologies include utility meters and analytical software that signal alerts to potential problems such as equipment operating abnormally or outside of normal hours.

GAO said that while the approximate cost of equipping a building with those technologies ranges from about $48,000 to $155,000, “accurately calculating installation costs is challenging because GSA typically installs these technologies in selected buildings incrementally and sometimes as part of other capital improvement projects.” Similarly, it said, data provided by the software application helps prioritize maintenance but it produces only estimates of avoided costs and thus is not useful in measuring actual benefits of the program.

“GSA does not have documented, clearly defined goals for the smart buildings program, nor has GSA developed performance measures that would allow it to assess the program’s progress,” GAO said. “GSA officials verbally described broad goals for the smart buildings program to GAO, but the agency has not documented these goals. Further, because GSA has not clearly defined its verbally expressed goals, it cannot demonstrate progress in achieving them … Without clearly defined goals, related performance measures, and data that can be used to measure its progress, GSA is limited in its ability to make informed decisions about the smart buildings program.”

Other issues include: “since smart building technologies are Internet-connected, they are potentially vulnerable to cyberattacks that could compromise security or cause harm to facilities or their occupants,” and the “limited technological proficiency of some GSA building managers and contractors or lack of buy-in from them.”

GSA concurred with recommendations that it establish clearly defined performance goals and related performance measures for the smart buildings program, and identify and develop data to measure progress.