Unions vs. stimulation: The home "weatherization" jobs in the stimulus bill were subjected to Davis-Bacon wage regulations--a favorite of the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department--under which federal Labor Department officials establish "prevailing wage" rates that must be paid. Why do unions like this system? Because the "prevailing wages" are determined in a way that guarantees they are usually more than the actual market wage, sometimes by large margins. All that finagling takes a certain amount of bureaucracy, however--and time. ABC's Jonathan Karl:
According to the GAO report, the Department of Labor spent most of last year trying to determine the prevailing wage is for weatherization work, a determination that had to be made for each of the more than 3,000 counties in the United States. [E.A.]
As a result, the Department of Energy apparently weatherized only 22,000 homes under the program. Another pre-existing program, which doesn't have to comply with Davis-Bacon, appears to have weatherized about 100,000 homes, if my math is right.
That's OK. It's not as if speed was important last year in terms of putting people to work. ... Oh wait, it was. [Insert now-embarrassing Obama quote here]
Well, yes, but - into the valley of pork rode the six hundred, or at least, President Bush. George Bush fought the good fight over Davis-Bacon in order to hasten reconstruction after Katrina in the fall of 2005, back when men were men and Republicans still controlled the Congress. Bush suspended Davis-Bacon on Sept. 9 but caved in to Democratic pressure and a mini-revolt by Republican moderates and reversed course in late October.
If Bush couldn't win this fight in 2005, should anyone have expected Obama to undertake this scuffle in 2009?
Now, the "prevailing wage" calculation for weatherization seems to have taken forever, which apparently was not the case for the Katrina area, and I don't know why that is. Is the Department of Labor having trouble figuring a prevailing wage for construction type projects when no one is hiring and everyone is laying off construction workers? Or is weatherization a skill so subtle that other seemingly comparable wages are not helpful? And let's note that per the GAO report (see below) the Davis-Bacon requirement was a new imposition by Team Obama, which gives it different flavor than the suspension by Bush.
Since Democrats forgot to repeal the law of Unintended Consequences when Obama was inaugurated, I can't say that a Dept of Labor meltdown over calculating prevailing wages strikes me as an utter surprise. But I don't think it is realistic to have expected Obama to lead a charge up Davis-Bacon Hill after Bush was so soundly routed there only a few years earlier.
All that said, a day may come when Obama supporters tire of offering the "Bush did it too" defense. But this is not that day!
For example, the Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program became subject to the Davis-Bacon requirements for the first time after having been previously exempt from those requirements. Thus, the Department of Labor had to determine the prevailing wages for weatherization workers in each county in the United States, a task it completed on September 3, 2009. Seven out of 16 states and the District of Columbia that GAO has been reviewing said that they had waited to begin weatherizing homes until the Department of Labor had determined county-by-county prevailing wage rates for their state. States used only a small percentage of their available funds in 2009, mostly because state and local agencies needed time to develop the infrastructures required for managing the significant increase in weatherization funding and for ensuring compliance with Recovery Act requirements, including Davis-Bacon requirements. As of December 31, 2009, according to data available to the Department of Energy, about 9,100 homes had been weatherized out of a planned 593,000.