This year, the federal government is on course to triple its acquisition of zero-emissions vehicles, the White House announced during Joe Biden’s climate climax last month. Putting the federal government’s progress thus far in context, though, reveals it will probably take many years to reach Biden’s goal.
“These things take time. They don’t happen overnight,” said Dorothy Robyn, a senior fellow at the Boston University Institute for Sustainable Energy who worked at the General Services Administration and the Defense Department during the Obama administration.
“My view is that the important thing here is signaling to the market that you’re serious about doing this, and you can accomplish that very quickly,” she added.
So far this fiscal year, the Biden administration has placed more than twice as many zero-emission vehicles for the federal government as last fiscal year, according to data provided by the GSA, which manages much of the roughly 645,000-vehicle federal fleet.
Till May, the federal government has ordered 474 zero-emissions vehicles during this fiscal year. The majority of those, 397 vehicles, were bought since Biden’s inauguration, a GSA spokesperson told the Washington Examiner.
Anyway, even with those buyings, less than 1% of the entire federal fleet is electric, and that includes plug-in hybrid vehicles, according to the Washington Examiner’s review of GSA data.
Electric vehicle champions see a significant chance for Biden to put the parts in place to drive zero-emissions vehicle acquisition faster. The effort would see an increase from Biden’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan, which promises to spend $174 billion to bolster the electric vehicle market through consumer purposes and infrastructure support.
But supporters also recognize some challenges in the near term: higher upfront cost of many electric models, a lack of electric options in some vehicle categories, and a requirement to build out infrastructure to support electric procurement.
As for now, the sticker price of many electric models is still more than their gas-powered equivalents. That could prove to be a difficulty because the GSA requires federal agencies leasing vehicles from it to pay the cost distinction between an electric vehicle and the lowest comparable gas-powered car, Robyn said.
“It’s a significant enough figure that it serves as a deterrent,” she added, calling the higher upfront cost a “green premium.” Robyn has proposed the GSA absorb that incremental cost difference, instead of forcing agencies to pay it.
Electric vehicle advocates note that all-around, even now, switching the federal fleet to electric would save the government an enormous amount of money in fuel savings and operating costs.