At the behest of U.S. Senator Susan Collins, GAO set up four phony firms to form “Energy Star” partnerships with the federal government. Using nothing but simple websites, phone numbers and rented mailboxes, all of the fake companies’ applications were approved by the Environmental Protection Agency or the Department of Energy within two weeks.
Of the 20 products submitted for certification by the GAO’s test companies, 15 were approved, two were denied and three did not receive a response before the investigation ended. Some of the fake gadgets were certified within minutes or days of submission and listed on the Energy Star program’s website.
Among the most ludicrous “products” presented to government regulators for approval was one called “Black Gold.” The marketing description provided by the GAO on its application form read: “Gas-powered clock radio is sleek, durable, easy on your electric bill, and surprisingly quiet.” The listed dimensions were similar to those of a small generator “for increased ease while traveling,” noted the description on one of the GAO’s fake websites. “The newly Energy Star-qualified product is safe for indoor use and easy on the environment.”
Another fake GAO product certified by Energy Star was the “energy-efficient” air cleaner, described as a “space heater with a feather duster and fly strips attached.” The picture of it on the fake company’s website — still available online — actually shows a space heater crudely attached to a feather duster with fly strips sticking to it [see it at right].
Other fake GAO products worthy of the Energy Star label included a refrigerator, a computer monitor and an external power adapter which was promptly ordered by real customers after being “certified.” Energy Star did not respond to the application to certify an “electric office hammer” before the investigation was closed in March.
One of the main reasons it was so easy to trick the Energy Star certification process, according to the GAO’s report, is that it “does not verify energy-savings data reported by manufacturers.” So if you tell the program that your product is “energy efficient,” you’re approved! Among the benefits of certification are federal and state tax dollars, other government incentives and more.
“GAO’s investigation shows that Energy Star is for the most part a self-certification program vulnerable to fraud and abuse,” the investigators concluded after three fourths of their phony appliances were approved. But the EPA, which manages the program together with the DOE, promptly responded to the report.
“EPA takes this report very seriously. The American people can have confidence in the ENERGY STAR label - a voluntary program that helps consumers save money by using energy efficient products,” claimed a press release posted on Energy Star’s website. “The program uses a series of checks to ensure consumers are getting products that cut energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions.”
Energy Star bureaucrats also emphasized that there were other controls in place, like competitors testing each others products to make sure they comply. Additionally, companies are not allowed to lie on government forms. But incredibly, the GAO had to inform the program’s bureaucrats that they had cited the wrong statute on their forms when warning manufacturers not to make up data.
In interviews with GAO officials, EPA bureaucrats predictably cowered behind the worn-out governmental excuse for everything that goes wrong — “limited resources.” In other words, their startling incompetence should be rewarded with even more taxpayer money. If a market participant in a free society certified energy-efficient appliances and got caught like this, that certification organization would promptly cease to exist. But in the world of government bureaucracies, the “solution” will, as usual, probably involve throwing more money at the program.
The GAO had some proposed fixes of its own. “Our ability to obtain product certifications with unverified test results illustrates the need for, at a minimum, some level of third-party testing for the program to be one of certification versus self-certification,” claimed the report. But while taxpayers can congratulate the GAO on an exposure job well done, its suggestions do not come close to getting at the root of the problem.
Senator Collins, who requested the investigation, feigned outrage after receiving the report. “If I were to write a headline for this disturbing GAO report, it would be ‘Taxpayers Get Duped – Twice,’” she wrote in a column about the findings. But instead of calling for an end to the fleecing, Collins advocated “increased oversight and aggressive internal controls.”
“We cannot allow lax oversight and lazy scrutiny to harm a program that is sorely needed,” she wrote. In a letter to DOE boss Steven Chu and EPA “administrator” Lisa Jackson, Collins actually asked the unconstitutional bureaucracies themselves to provide a “detailed plan” on fixing the problem. The proposals are due on April 16 and will almost certainly include a request for more resources.
But the real problem is not a lack of funding or “oversight,” it’s the fact that such blatantly unconstitutional agencies and programs were funded in the first place. Congress and the federal government have no lawful authority to meddle in energy or what they like to call “environmental protection.” The unconstitutional Energy Star program — along with the unconstitutional bureaucracies supposedly in charge of it — stand officially exposed as worse than useless. They should be abolished as soon as possible. Remember, the EPA is the agency trying to regulate and tax the gas you exhale.
Alex Newman is an American freelance writer and the president of Liberty Sentinel Media, Inc., a small media consulting firm. He is currently living in Sweden and has spent most of his life in Latin America, Europe and Africa. He has a degree in foreign languages and speaks Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, Italian and a little Swedish and Afrikaans. In addition, he earned a degree in journalism from the University of Florida, with emphasis on economics and international relations.