NASCSP Response to Department of Energy Office of Inspector General Special Report on Weatherization and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

WASHINGTON, Feb. 25, 2010 — The U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Inspector General Special Report OAS-RA-10-04 entitled “Progress in Implementing the Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act” is correct in asserting that the existing Weatherization network has been confronted with unprecedented challenges in implementing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) funds effectively. However, the State and local agencies of the Program are now fully ready, willing and able to meet the goals of the Obama Administration and the Department of Energy (DOE). It is not our intention to rehash the problems and obstacles that slowed the progress of ARRA funds in the WAP, but to address concerns raised in the report and move forward constructively. While it is accurate to assert that the ramp up of expenditures and production has been slower than anticipated, this has been due largely to variables outside of the control of network providers. For instance, from late March, when the first States received their initial award, to June of 2009, States had access to just 10% of the funds, which could only be used for training, hiring and equipment purchases. States were not allowed to use funds for production purposes until the restriction was lifted in June of 2009. Since its inception, the Weatherization Assistance Program has had a waiver from Davis-Bacon prevailing wages. The applicability of Davis-Bacon labor rates for all WAP ARRA projects posed significant planning and management challenges due to rigorous administrative requirements such as exponentially increased record keeping requirements and the introduction of weekly certified payrolls. In June 2009, the Department of Labor (DOL) decided that Davis-Bacon prevailing wages would apply to the WAP. Between June and July 2009 there was much uncertainty within the network whether and to what extent wage determinations would be made for a weatherization worker classification. In July, it was decided that a full wage determination of every county in the Nation would occur for the new weatherization worker classification. The resulting confusion during this time made Program managers wary of moving ahead with production until weatherization worker wages had been finalized. DOL finalized wage determinations for residential weatherization workers in September 2009. Though not quite as far reaching as the Davis-Bacon requirements, another stipulation that any dwelling older than 50 years must be reviewed by the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) before weatherization became another serious roadblock. Most SHPOs were not staffed or prepared for the magnitude of reviews that could be necessary, as a large number of the low-income homes eligible for weatherization are over 50 years old. To the credit of the Department of Energy, they confronted both the problems with Davis-Bacon and Historic Preservation head on. In addition to the swift response to the Davis-Bacon issue, DOE developed, in coordination with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) and the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers (NCSHPO), a Prototype Programmatic Agreement to address historic preservation requirements for the Weatherization Assistance Program. We believe the recently released guidance is effective and addresses the concerns in a very workable manner. Weatherization Program Managers are well aware of the increased scrutiny inherent with ARRA funds, and are working diligently to ensure both proper accountability and transparency. While the report asserts that there may be an increased possibility of wasteful, inefficient, and perhaps even abusive practices, due to an environment where there is a desire to spend WAP funds on a catch-up basis, we believe the contrary. As States and local agencies have proceeded with caution, they are now well equipped to tackle the challenge of ARRA production efficiently, properly, and with utmost accountability. Additionally, while the weatherization of homes with ARRA funds has not been at the pace anticipated, it is important to note that homes have continued to be weatherized using regular 2009 Department of Energy, Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, utility, and other funds. The WAP network is fully capable of meeting the goals of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and is well on the way to doing so. While there have been significant delays at all levels of the Program, these have since been ironed out. Now that the major obstacles, such as the Davis-Bacon and Historic Preservation requirements, have been resolved, we expect the Weatherization Assistance Program will soon be back on target in meeting ARRA objectives in the very near future. NASCSP works extensively with the Department of Energy, States (our members) and the National Community Action Foundation, which represents the approximately 900 Community Action Agencies in the Weatherization network. All levels of the WAP, from the Department of Energy to the State Grantees to the local agencies, are committed to working together to accomplish the goals of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. We are confident that, in spite of the slow start, that the obstacles have been overcome and that production and expenditure goals will be met.