The federal government has been slapping "energy-efficient" ratings on products that don't even exist -- including a bogus space heater with a duster stuck to it and an alarm clock supposedly powered by gasoline.
The office wanted to see how easily the feds could be duped, since the Energy Star program used to identify products as energy savers serves as a guide to businesses looking for such modern marvels and the basis for millions of dollars in incentivizing tax credits -- including $300 million from the stimulus.
The products fooled the federal government three out of four times. Of the 20 products submitted for approval, 15 were given the thumbs up. GAO reported that the federal government generally did not ask for critical evidence to back up its claims about how energy-efficient -- or real -- its bogus products were.
"Certification controls were ineffective primarily because Energy Star does not verify energy-savings data reported by manufacturers," the report said. Two of the fake firms even received requests from real firms to buy the products after they were listed.
Among the products approved was a "room air cleaner." The product image should have been a giveaway -- it showed a space heater with a duster and several fly strips attached to it, looking more like a fire hazard than an energy saver. The EPA approved it in 11 days and listed it on the official Web site, according to GAO.
The government also approved a "metal roof panel," a "geothermal heat pump," and a "gas-powered alarm clock." The latter was described as a generator-sized clock run on gasoline.
The government did reject two of the products -- a "compact fluorescent light bulb" and "ventilating fan" -- and took no action on three others. The GAO reported that the government asked for the products to be certified by a third party for only four of the products, and that of those only one was rejected.
Government officials told the GAO, when informed of the investigation's results, that they continue to check up on products after they are certified.
In a joint statement, the DOE and EPA said they take the findings "very seriously" and that they have started "enhanced testing" to improve. But they said the public should not lose confidence in the program.
"A review last year found that 98 percent of the products tested met or exceeded the ENERGY STAR requirements, and last year alone, Americans with the help of ENERGY STAR saved $17 billion on their energy bills," the statement said. "Consumers can continue to trust the ENERGY STAR to save energy and money and protect the environment."