GAO: Electronic waste guidance needs teeth

The General Services Administration issued guidelines in March on how to properly get rid of old computers, but, in a recent report, the Government Accountability Office said GSA would need reinforcements to get all the agencies’ attention.

GAO wrote that it’s imperative for the White House Council on Environmental Quality to issue instructions along with GSA’s guidelines to avoid ambiguity regarding electronic waste.

“Without such instructions, agencies will lack clarity on required agency actions under the national strategy and whether adhering to the GSA policy is necessary and sufficient for implementing the executive order,” according to the report. The report was released March 19, although it was written in February.

GAO wrote it’s important for the council to lay out for agencies what’s necessary to comply with President Barack Obama’s executive order on sustainability. GSA’s guidance documents are not legally binding on agencies, although regulations from GSA are binding. As a result, GAO recommended the environmental council to give instructions as to what is necessary to comply with the executive order.

However, the council told GAO in e-mails that GSA’s policy would address GAO’s recommendations regarding unclear definitions and inconsistent tracking and reporting of electronics. The council didn’t say how it would provide clear direction across the government under the National Strategy for Electronics Stewardship, which deals with efforts to manage used electronics.

GSA announced new guidelines March 1 that bans all federal agencies from disposing of electronic waste in landfills. Incinerators are also off-limits. The new guidelines direct agencies to reuse their electronics as much as possible first and then send electronics that don’t work to certified e-waste recyclers, under responsible recycling (R2) or eStewards standards.

Asset managers now must offer unwanted electronics to schools or state and local governments. They can also sell them.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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