Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A peek at stimulus spending in Illinois

Byron York has the goods on a report about one program of stimulus spending in Illinois that looks at the weatherization program. You know - this is part of an effort to fund supposedly green jobs by weatherizing homes. In Illinois the federal government paid $242 million to weatherize 27,000 homes. Close to a third of that money went to a Chicago-based organization, the Community and Economic Development Association of Cook County. And the results found by the Department of Energy's inspector general on that spending are not pretty.
"Our testing revealed substandard performance in weatherization workmanship, initial assessments, and contractor billing," the inspector general report says. "These problems were of such significance that they put the integrity of the entire program at risk."

Department inspectors visited 15 homes that were being weatherized by CEDA and paid for by stimulus funds. "We found that 14 of the 15 homes…failed final inspection because of poor workmanship and/or inadequate initial assessments," the report says. In eight of the homes, CEDA had come up with unworkable and ineffective plans -- like putting attic insulation in a house with a leaky roof. In ten of the homes, "contractors billed for labor charges that had not been incurred and for materials that had not been installed." The report calls billing problems "pervasive," with seven of ten contractors being cited for erroneous invoicing. And the department found "a 62 percent final inspection error rate" when CEDA inspectors reviewed their own work.

The work was not just wasteful; it was dangerous. Department inspectors found "heat barriers around chimneys that had not been installed, causing fire hazards." They found "a furnace [that] had not been vented properly." The found "a shut-off valve that had not been installed on a gas stove." And they found "carbon monoxide detectors, smoke alarms and fire extinguishers had not been installed as planned."

And then there was fraud. At ten of the 15 homes visited, Department inspectors found examples in which "a contractor had installed a 125,000 BTU boiler, but had billed CEDA for a 200,000 BTU boiler costing an estimated $1,000. more." Another contractor "billed for almost four times the amount of drywall actually installed." And another "installed 12 light bulbs but had billed CEDA for 20." (The Department found that CEDA paid almost three times the retail price for each light bulb.) "Billing issues appeared to be pervasive," the report concludes.
Either this one program in Chicago is especially corrupt or there is pervasive waste, fraud, and abuse throughout the billions that the federal government is spending for these green jobs. And who knows what is going on in some of the other federally-funded programs. And what should we expect for a program that is run far away from where the money is spent with millions and millions of dollars being flung at projects?