By Alice Gaston
The challenge by the President was steep: weatherize over 600,000 homes across the nation in three years. Difficulties in meeting this goal abounded from Davis-Bacon wages to Historic Preservation requirements, from new reporting obligations to training qualified workers. After only two and half years, however, the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) is on target to exceed its goals, confirmed in a new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). Published in December 2011, the report found WAP on track to meet and exceed the goals set by the Obama Administration under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act).
Often termed the “Congressional watchdog,” GAO is an independent, nonpartisan agency that, on behalf of Congress, investigates how effectively and responsibly government funds are spent. Despite a number of unflattering hearings in Congress about WAP in the last year, the GAO’s long-term study of the Recovery Act WAP concluded definitively: WAP is on target to meet the production goals of the Recovery Act.
The report, titled “Progress and Challenges in Spending Weatherization Funds,” had four main objectives, to: “examine (1) the status and use of weatherization grant program funds under the Recovery Act; (2) the challenges, if any, that recipients faced in implementing the weatherization program under the Recovery Act; (3) the extent to which the weatherization program under the Recovery Act has achieved its energy and cost savings goals; and (4) the changes, if any, over time in the quality of the FTE data reported by Recovery Act recipients (state-level agencies), particularly by weatherization program recipients.”
The agency polled all 58 Recovery Act Grantees and interviewed stakeholders including officials from the Department of Energy (DOE), national associations focused on low- income housing, and 10 state and territorial offices charged with overseeing WAP. Conclusions from the report are largely in line with experiences states and agencies have shared about the Recovery Act: Davis-Bacon and Historic Preservation requirements slowed the implementation of the program, leading to low expenditures in the first year, but the Program picked up steam considerably in the second and third years. The GAO provided no new recommendations for the program and was overall positive about the achievements of WAP and the work done by States and agencies.
DOE publicized this positive report from the GAO with an announcement by DOE Secretary Chu in December, stating that WAP met its Recovery Act production goals three months early. “Today the Department of Energy marks a major milestone: we have weatherized more than 600,000 low-income homes and put thousands of people to work through the Recovery Act,” said Secretary Chu. “Across America, DOE’s successful Weatherization Assistance Program has increased the demand for energy-saving products and services, created thousands of skilled jobs, and helped families to reduce energy waste and save money.”
The bottom line: WAP has not only met but exceeded the goals of the Recovery Act with the proof to back it up. These are reports and press releases that the Network should be proud of and use in Public Information Campaigns when talking about the program. After negative Inspector General reports and scores of bad stories in the press, WAP is finally getting the recognition for the hard work done across the nation to help low-income families live in safer, healthier, more energy efficient housing.