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Federal fleet numbers in question again; first limos, now electric carts

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 Updated:

General Services Administrator Martha Johnson

White House

The federal fleet management might need a tuneup.

When iWatch News reported that the number of federal limousines increased by 73 percent during the Obama administration, the General Services Administration suggested that an overly broad definition of “limousine” in its annual fleet report may have skewed the numbers.

Now the GSA says its 2010 report contains at least one other serious error, this time involving the 116 golf cart-sized electric vehicles that NASA employees use to tour the agency’s grounds. In response to the errors, a government watchdog group and a member of Congress are questioning GSA’s ability to track government assets.

According to the 2010 fleet report, NASA’s tiny electric vehicles cost the federal government $29.62 per mile to operate, more than any other category of vehicles in the federal fleet—and almost 30 times the cost to operate the 103 golf cart-sized electric vehicles at the Department of Interior.

NASA was dumbstruck by the GSA numbers.

Sonja Alexander, a spokeswoman for the space agency, said the GSA numbers in no way reflect data NASA provided to the agency for the fleet report. “We are not sure how GSA got the cost per mile at $29.62,” Alexander said, adding that NASA math puts the cost-per-mile of the electric vehicles at $4.60.

Questioned on the cost by iWatch News, GSA acknowledged the fleet report is inaccurate.

“This data error is another example of a flaw in the fleet report,” agency spokeswoman Sara Merriam wrote in an e-mail response to questions.

According to the GSA, the annual fleet report is generated by an Internet application that collects vehicle data self-reported by federal agencies. The fleet report is used by agencies, Congress and the public to track the size, cost, use and fuel consumption of the federal fleet.

During a May press conference announcing President Obama’s executive order charging agencies to increase the fuel efficiency of their fleet, General Services Administrator Martha Johnson said the agency helps manage the procurement of more than 400,000 federal vehicles. “This puts us in a unique strategic position to help the government invest in advanced technology vehicles,” Johnson said.

But a faulty federal fleet report could hinder that effort. Merriam at the GSA said the agency “looks forward to updating the data architecture” of the fleet report to make it a better tool to help agencies meet Obama’s energy saving goals.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, however, frowned on the GSA calculations. Grassley said GSA mistakes, and an overly broad definition of what makes a vehicle a limousine, raises “concerns about who’s minding the store. The leading government of the free world should be able to differentiate between a limousine and a sedan.”

Grassley said the GSA needs to involve an inspector general or the GAO to establish a better way of tracking the fleet.

The fleet report inaccuracies are also frustrating for watchdog groups, who often use official reports to track how the government spends money and manages goods and services. “We are stuck with what they tell us, which is true with a lot of the data we get from the federal government,” said Leslie Paige, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste. “You don’t know if it’s credible.”