Update: WUSA's report on federal building lights misses the mark


So some of you readers might have seen a WUSA report in the D.C. area that took aim at federal workers leaving the lights on. Well, Andrea McCarren had noted that in many federal office buildings, the lights were being left on at night, which costs taxpayer dollars.

So she filed a report on how much each agency pays in energy costs for each month and came away with some striking figures.

The video package seems to have everything: Taxpayer dollars being wasted, federal employees behaving badly and federal agencies paying through the nose for electricity because they leave their lights on.

In fact, at the 1:35 minute of the video the camera zooms in on the Labor Department’s monthly bill and shows – weird techno soundtrack to highlight the number – a bill of $1,042,098.92 for July 2010.

Outrageous! Scandalous. The reporter decides to ask people how much a utility bill should be for these buildings. She then springs the million dollar number on them after they answer to record their shock.

There is only one problem. That number is not true.

A clue that there might be more to this story is that if you freeze the video at 1:35, you can see their totals for the other months. It looks like April’s number is around $40,000. A huge change month to month.

So what is the deal?

That number was the amount the Transportation Department was billed but not its utility cost for that month. Because of previous bills that undercharged them they had to make it up in those months. The amount they paid per month in electricity is actually as follows.







How did I get these numbers? I did my own request and found out about the error.

Phillip Puckett, the Department of Labor’s Director in the Office of Administrative Services states that:

The $1 million electric bill highlighted in the news report does not reflect a single month’s bill, but a billing correction where the General Services Administration vendor played catch up with under billing for previous months.  The actual monthly electric bill for July was $390,466.43, not the $1,042,098.98 as reported.

The Department of Labor, Frances Perkins Building’s total electric bill for FY2010 was $4,244,040.13.

The reason the bills climbed from April to July was the bill corrections.  The General Service Administration’s electric contract is broken down into generation and transmission fees.  The vendor providing the electricity did not properly process and correctly bill DOL in the initial months of FY2010.  The differences in the April to July bills reflect billing corrections.

Also, total building size should be taken into consideration for the electric bills. The Department of Labor, Frances Perkins Building’s is just under 2 million gross square feet in size.

I am not arguing that the lights being on don’t waste taxpayer money, they probably do. But lets note that on average commercial buildings use only 25 percent of their energy on electricity for lights. The rest is heating, cooling, appliances and other related costs.

Also, the Frances Perkins building spends about $2.10 per square foot on energy costs, which is below the commercial sector average for office space of about $2.28, according to the Energy Department.


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  1. I agrees Alan. This is typical to see that the facts were wrong but not note that it is still a waste of money to leave the lights on all day and night. It seems to me that you could easy cut your total output if you shut down the lights at night or put them on some kind of motion detector system. The build I am in is very big, but all the rooms have motion detectors in them and the lights are only on when necessary.

  2. FACT: Lights are left on in empty offices because lazy federal employees do not turn them off on the way out. FACT: This wastes energy and taxpayer dollars.

    FACT: Excuses do not cut it! TURN OFF THE LIGHTS OR GET FIRED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. 2 questions/comments:
    1: so averaging 350k a month is acceptable? in the summer wear short sleaves and keep the temp at 78 in the winter wear a sweater and keep it at 68

    2: what’s the carbon footprint of federal buildings? because the more I see these things, how airforce one and two and three and bingo… are always up in the air, I’m starting to believe that my 36MPG and my wife’s 19MPG cars aren’t really the problem… nore are the cows’ flatulance that give me the steaks I eat…. it’s YOU the federal government who is causing AGW… we need to contain your emissions… shrinking your size seems the scientifically appropriate solution.

  4. FACT: Cleaning crews work after hours and need light. They can work all hours so this is not as simple as strolling by the building at 10am. I agree with Colin that shutting down the Department of Commerce and Jimmy Carter’s federal make work programs at Energy and Education are a good start.

  5. Gerald V. Casale on

    I love how the author grudgingly acknowledges that leaving the lights on at night is “probably” wasteful but then justifies it by saying it is only 25% of the bill!

    This article is a perfect example of how government employees have no concept that they are spending working people’s money.

    I am not against government or taxes but I have a huge problem with this entitlement mentality among government workers and the total incomprehension that their waste is the biggest drag on productive sectors of the economy.

  6. What I like about all of these posts is that none of them address the actual issue that the blog post raises, which is that the numbers are false, and she did not research them before running with the story on the air. So I guess all the angry “close down the government” comments have no problem with falsehoods shown on live TV?

    To answer Mike’s first question: “so averaging 350k a month is acceptable?”

    Yes! It is acceptable. Its a 2 million square foot building with thousands of workers. Xerox, Microsoft Lockheed Martin and other large companies pay comparable costs for their buildings.

    Mike’s suggestion?
    “in the summer wear short sleaves and keep the temp at 78 in the winter wear a sweater and keep it at 68”

    Would you be OK working in an office like that? Would you care if your boss decided to keep the temperature at 78 degrees during the summer and told you to wear short sleeves to work?

    And to all of you people commenting on how feds are not real workers, I wanted to let you know that my job is to make sure that hospitals get reimbursed at proper rates for medicare and medicaid.

    So for all of you who have grandparents that have had life-saving treatment, or family members unable to afford insurance on their own and get it through medicaid, I make sure that happens. Medicare is one of the most efficient health care programs created, where 98 percent of the premiums people pay go directly to treatment, and only 2 percent go to overhead such as salaries or administration costs. Ask your own health care provider what their overhead is. I bet you its 80 percent.

    So you are welcome.

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