Photo credit: Achim Hering
Uncle Sam wants you…to get out your guns. Your caulk guns. President Obama is going to induce taxpayers to weatherize themselves out of the recession. Big Nanny is now Big Bob the Builder:
Hoping to jump-start his plans for job growth, President Barack Obama is pushing Congress to pass incentives for homeowners who retrofit their homes to make them more energy-efficient. The president planned to visit a Home Depot store in Northern Virginia on Tuesday to make the case that outfitting houses to be more energy-efficient will create jobs and save families money on their energy bills. It’s the fourth time in less than two weeks that the president will preside over a high-profile jobs event, as he calls attention to his efforts to bring down the nation’s double-digit unemployment rate…The White House hopes the appeal of the retrofitting program — which some administration officials have dubbed Cash for Caulkers — will be similar to the now-expired Cash for Clunkers program, which offered rebates for trading in used vehicles for more fuel-efficient ones. At a White House jobs summit earlier in the month, Obama told Home Depot chairman Frank Blake that home improvement companies would be key partners in this program.
The White House credited Bill Clinton and Silicon Valley liberal John Doerr with the “Cash for Caulkers” plan last month:
Mr. Clinton has sent the White House a memorandum written by his foundation staff that lays out the reasons people don’t weatherize their homes. Mr. Doerr, who sits on a board of outside economic advisers to Mr. Obama that is working on a formal cash-for-caulkers proposal, told me that his goal was to “keep it really simple so we can do it really fast.”
The Doerr plan would cost $23 billion over two years. Most of the money would go for incentive payments, generally $2,000 to $4,000, for weatherization projects. The homeowner would always have to pay at least 50 percent of the project’s total cost. About $3 billion would be set aside for retailers and contractors in the hope that they would promote the program, much as car dealerships promoted cash for clunkers. (Mr. Doerr says he owns no stake in any weatherization companies.)
The Clinton plan depends on the reallocation of clean energy money from the stimulus bill that has not yet been spent. It covers not just houses and apartments but also commercial and industrial buildings. Perhaps most intriguing is its proposal to help homeowners and building owners who are nervous they will end up selling their property before a weatherization project has paid for itself. Under the Clinton plan, they could add the project’s cost to their long-term property tax bill, effectively splitting the cost with the next owner.
But there was already a ton of weatherization funding — $5 billion worth — included in the porkulus bill. And guess what? It either hasn’t been spent yet (less than half has been allocated) or is being squandered with abysmal oversight. Hello, green boondoggle:
After examining state records and visiting five Illinois homes undergoing weatherization improvements funded by the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, staff from the Energy Department’s Office of the Inspector General found problems so serious they issued a management alert before finishing the audit.
OIG is conducting similar audits of the Energy Department’s Weatherization Assistance Program in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Virginia. The program aims to help low-income families reduce their energy bills by financing improvements that make their homes more energy efficient. The program received $5 billion in Recovery Act funds and has thus far awarded $2.4 billion in weatherization grants to every state, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories, according to department records.
“Because of the unprecedented level of funding and the risks associated with spending vast amounts of money in a relatively short period of time,” OIG has initiated a series of audits to evaluate the program’s internal controls at both federal and state levels, wrote Inspector General Gregory Friedman in a Dec. 3 memo to senior officials, which was released on Monday.
Auditors found both state and federal officials failed to adequately monitor and inspect work being performed in Illinois. In addition, state officials lacked an automated system for tracking problems discovered during on-site visits. Federal officials didn’t find these shortcomings because they failed to perform their own on-site monitoring and inspection visits as often as required.
The failures jeopardize more than public funds. When OIG staff visited five homes in various stages of weatherization to develop a better understanding of the program, they discovered a gas leak on a newly installed furnace. While state officials and the weatherization contractor took immediate steps to warn the homeowners and fix the leak and other installation problems, “officials did not report any plans to conduct additional monitoring, testing or tracking of the work of the involved local inspector or weatherization contractor,” the IG reported.
So: The White House wants to dump billions more into spackle and insulation subsidies while massive amounts of already existing federal weatherization money go unspent or misspent to induce people into supposedly money-saving improvements that they have chosen voluntarily not to undertake.
Gives a whole new meaning to “tool time.”
Update: Obama says “insulation is sexy.”