Hiring Freezes Hamper Weatherization Plan
By MATTHEW L. WALD
WASHINGTON — President Obama’s plan to create jobs and rein in energy costs through a steep increase in funds for weatherization of low-income homes has so far borne little fruit, with many of the biggest states meeting less than 2 percent of their goals to date, the Department of Energy’s inspector general said in a report issued Tuesday.
The inspector general, Gregory H. Friedman, called the lack of progress “alarming.” Far into the nation’s winter heating season, the program for the most part has neither saved energy nor put people to work, he wrote.
“The job creation impact of what was considered to be one of the department’s most ‘shovel ready’ projects has not materialized,” the report said.
Quick action on weatherization was doomed by bureaucratic delays and by the recession itself, the inspector general’s report said, as spending cuts caused by the economic downturn forced states to trim personnel expenses.
Many states either furloughed the state employees who would administer such programs or instituted hiring freezes that prevented state offices from processing additional work — even though the federal government would have paid the additional salaries, the report found.
New York State, for example, had a goal of weatherizing 45,400 units over three years but by December had accomplished only 280, a completion rate of 0.62 percent, the report found. One reason was a hiring freeze in New York City.
Gee, the first problem cited by the Inspector General was the imposition of Davis-Bacon prevailing wage requirements onto a weatherization program that had previously not been subjected to that. Eventually the Times gets to that giveaway to Big Labor:
One nationwide stumbling block was a decision by Congress to require contractors on the weatherization jobs to pay prevailing wages. To determine what those salary levels were, so the Labor Department undertook a survey.
Stumbling block? Here is the IG:
The Recovery Act required that recipients of weatherization funds pay laborers at least the prevailing wage as determined under the Davis-Bacon Act. This requirement was not previously applicable to weatherization activities, and as such, grantees lacked information on which to base wage rates. In response, the Department asked the Department of Labor (Labor) to provide necessary wage determinations for each of the geographical areas expected to receive weatherization funds. Labor then began to conduct wage surveys across the country to determine the appropriate wage for weatherization work.
Recognizing that delays would occur while the wage surveys were completed, Federal officials attempted to mitigate the effects of implementing the Davis-Bacon Act. The Secretaries of Energy and Labor issued a joint memorandum in July 2009 to grantees stating that state and local agencies should begin weatherizing homes "now" while they were waiting for the results of the surveys. The guidance recommended proceeding with weatherization efforts and adjusting salaries retroactively, if workers had been paid less than the appropriate wage rates. In many cases, however, states elected not to proceed with weatherization efforts as recommended. They were concerned with avoiding perceived administrative problems and burdens associated with retroactive adjustments to wages. Many grantees chose not to begin work until the prevailing wage rates were formally established. Even after Labor's work was complete, additional delays occurred while grantees prepared guidance for sub-recipients on how to apply the wage rates. As such, efforts to begin the work of weatherizing homes did not begin in earnest until after guidance was completed in October 2009.
Sure, it was a "stumbling block" - if people routinely stumble and lay motionless for eight months.
And lest you wonder, New York's completion rate of 0.62% is not so bad - of the ten states with the highest funding, Ohio scored 21.17%, Wisconsin was second at 3.73%, and the rest ranged from 0% (Texas) to 1.63% (Florida).
This was a nationwide epic fail.