Imagine you work as a press officer at the General Services Administration. One month ago, many taxpayers didn’t even know your agency existed. Today, the agency’s acronym, GSA, is synonymous with government waste and scandal, and the erstwhile clueless taxpayer can’t scan the news without reading how he’d been fleeced by spendthrift GSA bureaucrats – apparently what happens in Vegas does not, as the ads promise, stay in Vegas.Outrage is the appropriate response to the Vegas profligacy. My father was, and my brother is, a career federal civil servant (not at GSA). Neither appreciated, I’m sure, that the unfolding scandal reinforced the stereotype of the lazy bureaucrat living high by sucking at the taxpayer’s teat.It’s too bad because the GSA has a positive story to tell. The aggrieved GSA press officer could be writing about how the agency, the federal government’s property manager and the largest owner of commercial real estate in the United States, is saving taxpayer money by working to improve the energy efficiency of its portfolio.The most recent example came in March, when GSA announced its Deep Retrofit Challenge. In partnership with energy service companies, GSA aims to achieve “the maximum energy performance savings possible” by retrofitting 30 federal buildings, totaling nearly 17 million square feet. Participating buildings include the Veterans Affairs Building, in Philadelphia, one of the region’s most energy-intensive buildings; the Brickell Building, in Miami; the Federal Archives and Records Center, in Chicago; and the Oklahoma City Federal Building.“This is a challenge to the private sector to bring innovative, energy saving retrofits to federal buildings and to take performance-based contracts to the next level,” then-GSA Administrator Martha Johnson said in a statement last month.To harvest the energy savings at the selected buildings, GSA will rely on a popular and proven model, energy savings performance contracts (ESPCs). Under such contracts, which can last as long as 25 years, an energy service company performs an energy audit of an individual building or portfolio to identify energy-saving opportunities.Upgrades are undertaken at no net cost to the taxpayer. The energy service company, which assumes the upfront capital costs of the improvements, guarantees that energy savings will cover the cost of the project. After the energy service company recoups its investment, GSA (and, by extension, you and me) reaps the savings, which, if the building is built to last, can span decades. Sixteen energy service companies, including Chevron Energy Solutions, Honeywell, Johnson Controls, and Siemens, are pre-approved and under contract with the U.S. Department of Energy to bid on the projects. Contracts are scheduled to be awarded in August of this year.Government ESPCs typically yield a significant, if modest, 15% to 25% in energy savings. “ESCOs [energy service companies] have often maintained that they would deliver deeper energy savings — if only clients would demand them,” wrote Roy Torbert, an analyst with the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), in a January blog post. With the Deep Retrofit Challenge, GSA has done just that. “Each project will not only aim for deeper savings, but also create a plan to reach net zero energy in the building, to assist GSA in developing long-term solutions for its entire portfolio.”In October 2011, RMI hosted the “GSA Net Zero Renovation Challenge Charrette,” with participation by the GSA’s Office of Federal High Performance Green Buildings and the Federal Energy Management Program. The goal of the two-day workshop was “to examine the existing ESPC structure and process, and identify improvements to unlock the possibility of deep savings and eventual net zero ESPCs” – to achieve what RMI often refers to as deep energy retrofits. In December 2011, RMI and GSA released a report on the findings from the charrette.GSA’s recent efforts to boost the energy efficiency of its buildings and vehicle fleets are a response to White House and congressional mandates. In December 2011, President Obama issued a memorandum directing federal agencies to enter into at least $2 billion in energy savings performance contracts over the next two years.Two years before, Obama signed Executive Order 13514, which required federal agencies to set a 2020 greenhouse gas emissions reduction target. (The executive order built upon and clarified provisions in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.) It also established energy, water, and waste reduction targets for federal agencies: 30% reduction in vehicle fleet petroleum use by 2020; 26% improvement in water efficiency by 2020; 50% recycling and waste diversion by 2015; and implementation of a 2030 net-zero-energy building requirement.So, yes, be outraged by the GSA’s Vegas debacle. But temper your ire with consolation that the squandered money will be returned many times over by adding insulation and cool roofs, replacing leaky windows and aging boilers, in the 1,500 buildings GSA owns nationwide.