We ended our last update on President Barack Obama's campaign pledge to weatherize 1 million homes per year by noting that we'd revisit the ruling should we find that the program fell short of its goals.
Over the last several weeks, multiple readers have e-mailed to ask if we're planning to revisit the promise, since reports were coming out that the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) wasn't living up to its expectations.
The most telling account of the program's progress is a report released by the U.S. Department of Energy in February 2010. The report provides two key conclusions. First, out of the $4.73 billion that the stimulus act provided for weatherization work, only $368.2 million had been spent. That's less than 8 percent. Second, of the 10 highest grant recipients, only two completed more than two percent of the planned units. Texas, for example, had planned to weatherize 33,908 units. As of Feb. 16, 2010, it had not weatherized any.
"In short," notes the report, "the Nation has not, to date, realized the potential economic benefits of the $5 billion in Recovery Act funds allocated to the Weatherization Program. The job creation impact of what was considered to be one of the Department's most 'shovel ready' projects has not materialized. And, modest income home residents have not enjoyed the significant reductions in energy consumption and improved living conditions promised as part of the massive Recovery Act weatherization effort."
What accounts for the slow start? The audit identified three categories of challenges.
First, because of a Depression-era law known as the Davis-Bacon Act, recipients of the weatherization funds had to pay the laborers a locally "prevailing wage." Problem was, very few states and counties actually knew what this prevailing wage was. In June 2009, the Secretary of Energy released a memo urging the fund recipients to begin the weatherization work anyway, while the Department of Labor was working out the wage determinants. If it turned out that the workers were underpaid, the state would pay them retroactively. Most states, however, "concerned with avoiding perceived administrative problems and burdens associated with retroactive adjustments to wages," chose not to begin the projects until the wage rates were formally established.
Second, the report notes that there were multiple state-level issues. In California, for example, furloughs created significant delays in implementing the weatherization program.
Finally, the Energy Department mandated that all of the project workers receive additional training. Again, budget shortfalls and furloughs caused significant delays.
The department said in February that it has cleared most of the hurdles and that the pace of weatherization should significantly improve. As of March 31, 2010, about 80,000 homes have been weatherized. That is 13 percent of the originally planned 593,000, according to the Government Accountability Office.
We'll keep watching how this unfolds, but for now, it's clear that the program has fallen short of its original goals. We are changing the rating to Compromise.