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They are small and not obtrusive!

There are times when the normal, expected governmental obstruction of innovation and progress veers into actual farce. Such is the case with the Government Accountability Office’s opinion forbidding the use of appropriated funds to construct a fueling station for hybrid vehicles, which Michael Neibauer reports this morning.

Since the Democratic turnover in 2006, the Hill has been on an energy reduction roll, from switching to natural gas at the Capitol Power Plant to biodegradable utensils in the Congressional cafeterias. Overall, the federal government must reduce its energy consumption 28 percent by 2020. As part of that effort, the Architect of the Capitol had proposed installing battery charging stations for the use of Hill staffers, who would reimburse the AOC for any electricity they consumed. Last week, the GAO said no, reasoning that appropriated funds may not be used to subsidize personal expenses, and commuting qualifies as a personal expense. If Congress wants to allow the AOC to build fueling stations, it’s going to have to pass a law.

Now, the GAO is supposed to aggressively watch over the use of federal funds, and it usually does that very well. But this has got to be one of the more narrow and tortured readings of spending rules the agency has ever issued: By the GAO’s logic, the parking lots on the capitol grounds, as a service that subsidizes personal commutes, could never have been built. Appropriated funds couldn’t be used to install bike racks, or pay Metro fares.

It’s also completely inconsistent with the Obama administration’s push for electric vehicles—we’ve pumped billions into battery research, and set up incentives for automakers to retool their factories to produce hybrid cars. The biggest obstacle to making hybrids commercially viable? Widespread availability of fueling stations.

Given that Congress doesn’t seem to be able to accomplish much of anything these days, and the only person whose job it is to champion the rights of District residents doesn’t have a vote, it’s hard to be optimistic about any legislation being passed to overrule the GAO’s objection. But considering how blatantly this decision contradicts everything the administration has done and said about electric power, I’m hoping it’s the kind of thing that can be reversed through executive order—and soon.

Photo from Mariordo via Wikimedia Commons.