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Heat Restrictions in Federal Buildings May be Eased

October 28, 1986

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Federal government offices may be a bit warmer this winter and the fuel bill a bit higher if a planned easing of thermostat regulations is put into effect.

The General Services Administration, the government’s property management agency, said Tuesday that a draft regulation relaxing the rules had been sent to the Office of Management and Budget for approval.

There was no estimate of when that office might act.

Ever since 1973, when the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ embargo on shipments of crude oil to the United States sparked shortages and price increases, government thermostats have been required to be set at no lower than 80 degrees in the summer and no higher than 68 degrees in the winter.

The change would make the summer limit 78 degrees and the winter limit 70 degrees.

An official of the General Services Administration, who spoke on condition he not be identified, said the planned two-degree relaxation could cost the government $91 million a year more in heating and cooling costs, perhaps as much as $100 million. This would be about 5 percent of the current annual bill, he estimated.

But that estimate was disputed by GSA spokesman Joe Slye. It would be correct if agencies were observing current limits, he said - but so much cheating by employees is going on, and so many waivers have been granted by the GSA to other agencies, that the cost of the change should be negligible.

An example of cheating would be the use of electric space heaters brought from home - expensive in terms of electricity, and forbidden by some local fire regulations.

Employees ″are doing a lot of things we don’t know about,″ Slye said.

Nothing in the new rule will require an agency to set all thermostats at the new limits, and some agency heads and supervisors with an eye on their budgets might keep the old ones, Slye said.

On the other hand, ″considering morale and absenteeism, say in Chicago or Buffalo - and what if you have an older work force? - it may be worth it″ to change, he said.

Whether thermostats change or not, the government, like all other buyers, is facing sharply lower energy costs this winter because of the collapse of crude oil prices in 1986.

For example, the Energy Department projects the average nationwide wholesale price of No. 2 heating oil at 47 cents per gallon for 1986 and 44 cents in the final three months of the year, compared with 77 cents for all of 1985.

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