GAO: EPA should make e-recycling mandatory for agencies

The Environmental Protection Agency should require federal agencies to participate in an electronics recycling program in order to increase the number of computers and peripherals recovered by the federal government, according to the Government Accountability Office.

In a GAO report released today on electronic waste recycling, auditors found only 61 out of thousands of federal facilities participate in the Federal Electronics Challenge program, and only five of these facilities meet the electronic product management criteria that the program's steering committee asked them to attain.

GAO recommended that the agency make the FEC program mandatory by working with the administration to issue an executive order, make changes in the Federal Acquisition Regulations or through some other way.

'Because the federal government will spend about $65 billion on IT in fiscal 2006, while discarding approximately 10,000 computers per week, we continue to believe that our recommendation on this matter is both practical and appropriate,' auditors said. 'We continue to believe this track record falls short of EPA's own goal that the federal government 'lead by example' in promoting recycling, reducing the use of toxic chemicals, and conserving energy and materials in its lifecycle management of electronic products.'

EPA, however, disagreed with GAO's findings and said that 12 agencies participate in the program, which represents 80 percent of all IT purchasing in the government.

But GAO said EPA's definition of 'participation' is shallow because it means that agencies have identified their current practices for managing electronic products and set goals to improve them.

'However, the participating agencies and facilities are not required to meet their goals,' GAO said.

GAO also recommended that EPA submit a legislative proposal to Congress to encourage private-sector companies to increase the amount of computers and peripherals that are recycled.

'Some data suggest that over 100 million computers, monitors and televisions become obsolete each year and that this amount is growing,' GAO said. 'Federal regulatory requirements provide little incentive for environmentally preferable management of used electronics.'

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