Issue Briefs

Following is an excerpt from a Congressional Research Service report on the programs and activities of various federal agencies in regard to green buildings.


The federal government owns or leases about half a million buildings, comprising about 3 billion square feet in floor space. EISA (Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007) and other policy instruments require all federal agencies to implement green building practices for buildings they control. This report does not discuss green building within individual agencies, although such efforts may be substantial. However, several agencies have programs and activities that have a broader focus than the facilities of that agency. This section of the report discusses selected examples.

General Services Administration

The General Services Administration (GSA) provides facilities for about 60 federal agencies, managing about 6% of federal floorspace and a roughly equal amount of leased space. The agency requires that all of its new construction and major renovation projects be LEED-certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). GSA was a leader in the efforts to develop sustainable design principles for the federal government, culminating in the development of the Whole Building Design Guide.


EISA (§436) required GSA to establish an Office of Federal High-Performance Green Buildings, to coordinate activities relating to such buildings across federal agencies. The office is housed in the Public Buildings Service. Although GSA’s focus is on federal buildings, the office is also tasked with coordinating activities with the Department of Energy’s Office of Commercial High-Performance Green Buildings established by §421 of EISA.

Percentages of Total Federal Building Floorspace under the Jurisdiction of Various Agencies, 2005




% of Total

Department of Defense




US Postal Service




General Services Administration




Department of Veterans Affairs




Department of Energy






Department of Energy

Most of the Department of Energy’s green building activities relate to energy, through the Building Technologies Program (BT) and the Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) of the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE).

BT sponsors and performs R&D to improve both commercial and residential energy efficiency. It is also involved in the development of energy codes and enforcement of equipment standards, transfer of relevant technologies to the marketplace, and integrated design of energy efficient buildings. A major focus for the program in the next several years will be on enabling the development of cost-effective zero-net-energy buildings for the residential and commercial sectors.

BT has several notable programs, including the following:

  • Building America, an R&D program in partnership with the building industry. It focuses on a whole-building, integrated approach to improving energy savings in residential buildings.
  • The High-Performance Commercial Buildings program is a public-private partnership program that uses a whole-building approach to improve energy savings in commercial buildings.
  • Energy Star is a joint program with EPA that uses voluntary labeling to promote energy-efficient products.
  • The Buildings Energy Data Book provides data on energy consumption and other building-related topics for the residential, commercial, and federal sectors. It is updated annually.

FEMP assists federal agencies in implementing energy savings and management, including the designation required by EPACT 2005 of energy-efficient products for purchase by agencies. It provides assistance with procurement, construction, operations, and maintenance. It also chairs the Interagency Sustainability Working Group, which is responsible for assisting agencies in implementing sustainable building design, including technical guidance for implementation of the sustainable buildings requirements in E.O. 13423. FEMP collects data and issues reports annually on energy consumption by agencies and related topics.

Among other DOE entities, the Energy Information Administration collects and reports on data relating to energy, including that used by buildings, most notably the residential and commercial energy consumption surveys. Some of DOE’s national laboratories also perform R&D relating to green buildings.

Environmental Protection Agency

Along with DOE, the Environmental Protection Agency has the broadest range of programs and activities relating to green building, addressing a wide range of elements. Notable programs and activities include the following:

  • Energy.
  • Water.
  • Materials
  • . The Construction Initiative, part of the agency’s Resource Conservation Challenge, is a collaborative public/private partnership program aimed at increasing recycling and reuse of materials in construction activities. The Lifecycle Building Challenge is a competition to promote building materials reuse. EPA administers Water Sense, a voluntary labeling program established in 2006 to promote water efficiency. Manufacturers may earn Water Sense labels for their products, and landscape-irrigation professionals can be certified under the program. EPA originated the Energy Star program. The agency’s Green Power Partnership supports the procurement of power from renewable resources by government and private-sector organizations.

The Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) Program assists federal agencies in meeting green purchasing requirements and includes an online database of environmental information about products and services. The Comprehensive Procurement Guideline program identifies recycled products that comply with RCRA requirements.

  • Waste.
  • Health.
  • Siting.
  • The Green Infrastructure Partnership and related activities promote landscaping and building techniques such as green roofs to reduce stormwater runoff and maintain or restore the natural hydrology of a building site. The agency also has a variety of programs and activities relating to smart growth and sustainability. EPA supports activities such as R&D and awards programs to develop safer and more environmentally friendly chemicals, including "green chemistry" technologies. The Indoor Environments Program provides information and tools to ensure the protection of indoor environmental quality in schools, residences, and commercial buildings. The Industrial Materials Recycling Program provides information aimed at reducing construction and industrial waste and promoting its recycling and reuse. The Greenscapes program promotes and provides information on waste reduction in landscaping operations.

Recognizing the broad range of separate programs and activities relating to green building, EPA has announced a green building strategy to improve coordination among its programs and encourage broader adoption of green building practices. Objectives include improved standards and metrics, enhanced research, wider understanding about green building, and increased use of the approach.

Office of the Federal Environmental Executive

Also, despite its economic importance, the construction sector invests in R&D at a much lower rate than the industry average.


The position of Federal Environmental Executive was established in 1993 by Executive Order 12873. Executive Order 13423 broadened that position to include an Office of Federal Environmental Executive (OFEE), and extended the duties to include monitoring of implementation by agencies of the order, including its green building requirements, and advising the Council on Environmental Quality.

National Institute of Standards and Technology

The green building efforts of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are housed in the institute’s Building and Fire Research Laboratory. The Healthy and Sustainable Buildings program focuses on improvements in measurement science and data relating especially to energy efficiency and indoor air quality. The Cybernetic Building Systems program focuses on automation technology relating to green building. One notable result of NIST’s work is the Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability tool (BEES), a software tool that uses life-cycle assessment methods to facilitate the selection of environmentally preferable building products.

Department of Housing and Urban Development

The Green Initiative in the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is a voluntary program to encourage green building in the rehabilitation of certain residential housing. The department’s Healthy Homes program focuses on improving indoor environmental quality in housing for low-income families.

The cross-sector Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing (PATH) is coordinated by HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research. Its goals are to promote green building

and other innovations in housing technology by reducing regulatory and other barriers to their use, disseminating information, and fostering research.

Issues for Congress

Four of the questions the 111th Congress and the Obama Administration are expected to face with respect to green building are

  • How well are current federal green building programs working? How effective are current methods for coordinating the green building activities of different agencies?
  • To what extent and by what means should Congress extend federal efforts to facilitate and support adoption and implementation of green building measures throughout the United States?
  • What priorities should Congress give to the different elements of green building, especially those such as siting that have received less attention in the past?
  • What actions should Congress take to facilitate the growth of scientific and technical knowledge relating to green building?

If Congress wishes to take additional action on such questions, it could do so through appropriations, new statutory requirements, and tax law. It could also review current and proposed agency programs, regulations, and policies.

Oversight of Federal Green Building Programs

There appears to have been little congressional oversight to date of federal green building programs. That is not surprising given the recent establishment of such programs and the broad range of federal agencies involved in the efforts, among other factors.

Congress may wish to examine how well federal agencies are implementing green building programs, and what impacts those efforts are having on the adoption of green building practices nationwide. In addition to oversight of the activities of individual agencies, it may also be useful to examine how well agency efforts are being coordinated.

Adoption and Implementation of Green Building

In addition to programs and activities such as those described above, the federal government also supports the availability of mortgages that promote energy efficiency, through the Federal Housing Administration, the Veterans Administration, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac. Lenders who provide such mortgages may also become Energy Star partners.

If Congress finds that such measures are not adequate, it could consider such steps as providing stronger mortgage and tax incentives, broadening the scope of mortgage and tax incentives to include elements of green building in addition to energy, funding the rebate program authorized by EPACT 2005, and specific appropriations to speed adoption of green building in areas where market penetration has been lagging, such as residential renovation. Congress could also consider regulatory actions, although such efforts might be complicated by federalism issues and differences in regional requirements relating to climate and other variables.

Congress could also consider identifying ways in which current green building efforts in federal agencies could be enhanced. In addition to accelerating green building for new and existing stock, Congress might consider whether programs and activities are sufficiently integrated within agencies such as EPA and DOE, and whether activities across agencies are sufficiently harmonized, such as through participation by additional agencies in the WBDG..

Priorities Among Elements of Green Building

Among the elements of green building discussed in this report, energy has received far more attention than any other. This priority is not surprising, given increasing concerns about fossil fuel imports, strategic vulnerability, global warming, and the high and inefficient levels of use of energy by most of the current building stock in the United States. Nevertheless, Congress may wish to examine whether federal efforts in green building are effectively balanced among the component elements. If they are not, existing programs relating to particular elements could be strengthened or new ones established.

In addition, Congress may wish to explore whether the incremental approach embodied in most green building activities is sufficient to address national needs, or if some modification, such as a stronger emphasis on sustainable building (in the sense it is used in this report), would be preferable.

Knowledge Base

Development of the scientific and technological knowledge base for green building is supported by R&D funded by both federal and private-sector sources. Levels of funding from both sources may be suboptimal to address the needs currently identified.

According to one recent study, green building has received less than 0.5% of total funding for federal nondefense R&D.

Funding for R&D relating to the different elements of green building is disparate. About 75% of total, federal and nonfederal, green building R&D funding from 2002 to 2005 was energy-related, with 20% for materials and resources, and the remaining 5% for other elements and in integrative and economic R&D. Given the range of green building elements and the need for improved knowledge about them, as well as the accepted importance of integration and economics to successful green building efforts, Congress may wish to consider whether federal funding levels and priorities should be modified, and whether to create incentives for increasing private-sector R&D funding.