Lawmaker Targets DOE's Weatherization Program - Fine Homebuilding
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Building Business

Building Business


Lawmaker Targets DOE's Weatherization Program

comments (3) November 21st, 2011 in Blogs
FHB_Building_News Richard Defendorf, contributor


Southeast Weatherization and Energy Efficiency Training (SWEET) Center, in Atlanta, Georgia, which opened in October 2010. Offered by the Southface Energy Institute, the SWEET program has has trained more than 700 weatherization professionals in home retrofitting and energy-efficiency skills, benefiting more than 3,500 low-income households. 
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Southeast Weatherization and Energy Efficiency Training (SWEET) Center, in Atlanta, Georgia, which opened in October 2010. Offered by the Southface Energy Institute, the SWEET program has has trained more than 700 weatherization professionals in home retrofitting and energy-efficiency skills, benefiting more than 3,500 low-income households. 

Photo: Southface Energy Institute

Things have been so busy on Capitol Hill lately that hardly anything is getting done. After toiling to near exhaustion since October 25, the 12 members of the bipartisan deficit supercommittee this week tumbled out of the Congressional clown car without a deal. The committee’s six Democrats and six Republicans, it turns out, couldn’t quite agree on a key point or two, particularly when it came to raising revenue by increasing taxes on wealthy citizens. 

So, after a well-deserved Thanksgiving recess, some of the lawmakers will pack themselves back into the little car and head for a number of legislative safe houses, where they’ll try to repeal the automatic budget cuts – about half targeting military spending and half targeting domestic programs – that have been triggered by the deficit committee’s failure. 

No surprises here. By now, most people have grown accustomed to watching lawmakers use ideology to position themselves for reelection rather than for serving the public. Until the 2012 elections are behind us, much of what will be presented as “lawmaking” will actually be little more than grandstanding. 

Small program, big notoriety 

Elected officials, though, do have ways of at least trying to appear productive, much like a hamster on a hamster wheel appears to be going nowhere fast. Case in point is the Stop Green Initiative Abuse Act of 2011, introduced by Representative Chuck Fleischmann, a Republican representing the Third Congressional District in Tennessee. The purpose of the measure is to eliminate the Weatherization Assistance Program, which provides free weatherization services for low-income households. 

The WAP, which is administered by the Department of Energy, has historically been ignored by politicians as a cost-cutting target because its annual budget was, at a few million dollars, relatively small. But the program became a favorite piñata of conservatives after its budget ballooned dramatically – to about $5 billion over three years, under the $787 billion economic stimulus program – and program administrators struggled to synchronize and implement its regulations and rollout. 

Even though the WAP allotment was about 0.6% of the total stimulus budget, the program has been so successfully demonized that it ranks high on tallies compiled by YouCut, a Republican program that allows voters to vote online for the government programs they want cut. “I am also glad the American people directly had a say in this process through the YouCut program. Together we can get our fiscal house in order and get our country back on the right track,” Fleischmann said in a press release about the legislation, which was announced on November 16.

A LIHEAP of faith

The congressman says the Weatherization Assistance Program is dispensable because other federal programs, such as the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), “are already in place.” In fact, WAP was created in 1976, five years before the launch of LIHEAP, which provides one-time funding to low-income households to help them cover their utility bills. In many states, WAP and LIHEAP services are administered by the same state agency and offered in tandem. Weatherization improvements, however, provide ongoing energy savings rather than one-time assistance with energy bills.

Fleischmann points to a December 2010 review by the Tennessee Comptroller General’s office that noted that “weatherization contractors had, in nearly half of the cases studied, failed to implement critically recommended measures to properly weatherize homes” and had misused WAP funds. The press release also cites a January 2010 report by the DOE’s Inspector General that called the expanded program “poorly administered.” The main concern identified in the Inspector General’s report was the sluggish rollout of services in many states, due to confusion over prevailing-wage rules and other implementation requirements.

Other WAP snafus have emerged since then, including, in California’s case, computer-training deficiencies among support staffers. But for all its rollout delays, audit headaches, complexity, and management difficulties, the expanded WAP is finally seeing success in most states and, long term, will deliver energy savings benefits to occupants of retrofitted homes. The goal of the expanded program was to weatherize 600,000 homes; some 484,000 (just over 80% of the goal) had been retrofitted by the end of the second quarter of this year, according to DOE estimates.

Unlikely bipartisan support

But as we said, most elected officials at least try to appear responsive to their constituents, and Fleischmann’s decision to target the already vilified WAP gave him an easy, symbolic, conservative twofer, even if the amount of money the government would save by eliminating the program – $2.1 billion over the next 10 years, by Fleischmann’s estimate, or an average of $210 million annually – is relatively small. 

There’s no indication that the measure has any chance of becoming law, although if Rick Perry gets elected president and doesn’t forget to eliminate the Department of Energy, as he promised, it won’t matter.

 


posted in: Blogs, business, energy efficiency, insulation, weatherizing

Comments (3)

kenackr kenackr writes: The natural order of survival shows us that predators always target the young, lame, & sick first because it's an easy kill, versus taking on the best of the best. If there is fraud or waste in ANY program, I agree it should be identified & stopped, but don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

In accordance with that concept, I suggest that there are many more targets that can yield a significantly greater return than this one, for example:

1) Abolish preferential medical & employment benefits for ALL government employees that exceed what the average US citizen has access to. You're in the Obama healthcare system now! Limit days off to between 10 or 12 per year like real working folks. Make Congressional retirement equal to 1/2 the time served. Enact insider trading rules for all in government. Cut all Congressional salaries in half due to poor performance. Cut all congressional staff expenses in half for poor performance.

2) Limit all Congressional terms to no more than 2 to eliminate power piggies who won't move away from the public trough.

3) Mandate immediate expulsion from office & loos of all further benefits for a confirmed breach of ethics.

4) Stop the flow of evermore administrators in ALL federal bureaucracies and reduce to 50% of current levels (Pentagon included per Bob Gates).

A "ruling class" of overpaid ego maniacs on power trips whose primary interest is their own gain will NEVER make cuts where they are really needed. Only WE THE PEOPLE can make these types of cuts happen by mandate. Perhaps a national "Proposition" should be added to all Federal elections? Are you in?



Posted: 11:32 am on November 29th

tallgrasses tallgrasses writes: If a proram benefits the poor it has to be bad. SIMPLE as that! (See definition of conservative republican) zif a government program benefits a corporation its has to be good.
Don't waste your time thinking any deeper than that.
Posted: 8:06 pm on November 28th

Mattmorr Mattmorr writes: Those numbers actually only include the funding from the DOE which makes up less than 40% of total funding for WAP. The total funding for WAP has averaged more like $772 million annually from 2000 to 2010. Since the $5 billion infusion from the Recovery Act, the average is even higher. Where is this money going?

Energy efficiency is awesome. Charity is awesome. Let's not allow those intentions to cloud our judgement on the efficacy of a program. Check out the appropriations for training and technical assistance (20% of yearly appropriation). Hello....weatherization is not rocket science. The free articles and videos on finehomebuilding.com alone are enough to sufficiently educate people on weatherization. It would be utterly sickening to literally try to calculate the waste and inefficiency (ironic, right?) created by all government programs. The subterfuge in the funding survey report for WAP is enough to make me want to throw up.

Is it really that crazy to consider an alternative method of improving home efficiency and helping the poor?
Posted: 10:18 pm on November 23rd

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