Oct 05 2023

Fleet Management Technology Keeps Federal Vehicles Running

Telematics is helping agencies monitor the government’s 600,000-plus vehicles for maintenance needs and other data.

The General Services Administration leases about 200,000 vehicles in domestic and overseas locations — nearly one-third of the entire federal nontactical fleet. Tracking the costs and maintenance needs for these cars and trucks is a critical task.

Real-time data derived from modernized fleet management tools “enables GSA Fleet to save money by tackling maintenance issues early, before they can become the cause of a major repair,” says Crystal Philcox, assistant commissioner of GSA’s Office of Travel, Transportation and Logistics.

GSA is not alone in using technology in support of improved fleet management.

In fiscal year 2022, the government spent about $5 billion to operate a federal fleet of more than 656,000 passenger vehicles, trucks, ambulances and buses. That includes more than 241,000 in civilian agencies, about 175,000 military and about 241,000 in the U.S. Postal Service, The vehicles traveled a total of 4.3 billion miles that year.

Under pressure to contain that cost, and to comply with regulations that require them to track data on vehicle use, agencies increasingly are turning to technology to help them understand how their cars and trucks are doing.

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Fleet Management Technology Monitor Vehicles with Telematics, GPS Tracking

For improved fleet management, agencies are turning to GPS tracking to route vehicles more effectively. And they’re leveraging telematics, a digital blueprint of vehicle operations that empowers capabilities such as real-time tracking and fuel management.

These technologies also support preventive maintenance, which helps ensure vehicles are operating without problems.

“There are a lot of vendors in this space bringing the commercial truck fleet mentality to the federal government,” says John Polowczyk, an executive director in Ernst & Young’s government practice and a retired Navy admiral.

“There are ready-made vehicle telematics platforms being used across the commercial sector that are ready-fit for federal use cases,” he says. “Commercial vendors have all built the proverbial dashboards and control towers to allow you to make management decisions about the fleet and the mission that you are attempting to accomplish.”

There are comprehensive solutions available, such as Samsara fleet tracking products, all-in-one platforms that provide real-time GPS tracking, routing and dispatching to improve operational efficiency.

And there are supporting technologies as well, including routers and antennas to ensure that vital vehicle data gets where it needs to go. Cradlepoint, for example offers the R1900 ruggedized 5G edge router, while the Havis stingray antenna and Panorama BATG are designed with telematics in mind.

But what does all this look like in action? A number of federal use cases show how government is applying these technologies.

Crystal Philcox
Real-time data allows our fleet management team to provide a new level of customer support.”

Crystal Philcox Assistant Commissioner for Travel, Transportation and Logistics, General Services Administration

Border Patrol Takes Telematics to the Edge

The U.S. Border Patrol uses thousands of SUVs and pickup trucks to patrol nearly 6,000 miles of borderland with Mexico and Canada. In support of that effort, “USBP is using telematics technology to track vehicle usage, including utilization data, fuel use and performance data,” says U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesperson Tammy Melvin.

The use of telematics data eliminates a lot of manual tracking, providing the agency with performance and fuel consumption data straight from the vehicle’s computer. The computer also transmits diagnostic codes, giving fleet mechanics a chance to catch small malfunctions or defects in their early phases.

“That can increase the service life of a vehicle, and help economize and mitigate operational and repair costs,” Melvin adds.

Telematics also makes it easier to gather data for mandated reports. Department of Homeland Security agencies, including CBP, are required by law to provide utilization and fuel consumption data to monitor usage trends; the data also informs the Department of Energy’s annual Federal Automotive Statistical Tool report.

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Electric Utility Vehicles Transmit Data as They Support Power

The Western Area Power Administration operates a fleet in support of its mission to transmit electricity via 684 power companies, municipalities, tribes and other entities across a 15-state region of the western United States. WAPA’s 17,000-circuit-mile transmission system carries electricity from 57 hydropower plants.

In a recently launched pilot program, WAPA installed tracking technologies on a small number of GSA-leased vehicles. It expects the program will “help improve vehicle utilization and allocation,” says WAPA spokesperson Stephen Collier.

The agency hopes to monitor vehicle mechanical issues, maintenance and fuel consumption, using data analytics and dashboarding to reduce manual processes in fleet management, he says.

“We expect the program will be fruitful in providing more data points to help better manage our fleet and reduce some repetitive and manual administrative processes,” he adds.

After WAPA evaluates the results of the pilot, it may roll out tracking solutions across more of its fleet, Collier says.


Average operating cost of a government vehicle in fiscal year 2022

Source: gsa.gov, Federal Fleet Report Dashboard, Sept. 5, 2023

Fast Data Means Quick Decisions for Agencies

Telematics technology supports a range of fleet management needs, such as reporting on fuel use, miles driven and maintenance benchmarks. “Real-time data allows our fleet management team to provide a new level of customer support,” Philcox says.

That’s how the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service uses telematics. FSIS, whose vehicles are among the 38,000 used by USDA, monitors driver performance, vehicle diagnostics, fuel consumption and accident reporting. The department first installed telematics on 500 vehicles in 2021.

FSIS employees frequently travel for business, often to inspect food processing facilities. Real-time access to vehicle data “has enabled our fleet specialists to make timely decisions that positively impact the bottom line,” says an FSIS spokesperson.

“For example, we are able to improve our overall fleet efficiency, provide instant theft recovery information, enable cost savings, improve our lifecycle vehicle replacement program, support our maintenance management plan by minimizing vehicle downtimes and improve our overall vehicle readiness.”

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Improved fleet management helps agencies meet a number of key goals. “Telematics can be used to understand vehicle usage, speed of the vehicle, driver habits and vehicle emissions,” Polowczyk says.

All of this helps agencies reduce costs, keep vehicles running longer and meet sustainability objectives. With more effective routing, agencies can drive fewer miles, which helps them dial down climate impacts as their employees drive to support mission goals.

Some have come to view modernized tracking tools as in indispensable part of effective federal fleet management.

“Real-time data is critical to condition-based maintenance, for scheduling maintenance workloads, and helps mitigate overutilization of vehicles while addressing vehicles that are perceived to be underutilized,” Melvin says.

Photography By Ryan Donnell

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