The Times West Virginian

West Virginia

June 17, 2011

Weatherization program audit cites W.Va. agency for misuse

CHARLESTON — West Virginia has mismanaged a $38 million federal weatherization grant, including work awarded without bids and prioritization of projects, the U.S. Department of Energy said in an audit report issued Thursday.

The problems range from a $20,000 payment to a former state weatherization program director who wasn’t required to do anything for the money to $25,000 paid to an attorney who provided only a two-sentence letter saying contracts with local weatherization agencies had been reviewed and approved, according to the Energy Department.

The audit covered just three of 12 local organizations overseeing weatherization and the Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity, which is administering the money. Economic Opportunity official Julie Alston told the Energy Department that the agency is addressing the problems. The agency referred questions to acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s office.

“We have new leadership in that office. We have either done, worked on or are continuing to work on the concerns that the report brings up,” Tomblin spokeswoman Jacqueline Proctor said.

Proctor said the state had no issues with any particular part of the audit. “We’re working on everything,” she said.

Auditors also found local agencies awarded $16,000 worth of work without taking bids in violation of state policy. One agency fixed up the homes of its own employees and their relatives before weatherizing homes owned by the handicapped and elderly.

“We could not identify a valid reason for weatherizing employees’ homes before weatherizing those of applicants on waiting lists,” auditors wrote. “In two cases, weatherization workers functioned as and were paid as crew supervisors on their own houses.”

One employee got $10,000 worth of improvements including new windows, doors and a ceiling fan, auditors said.

The money is West Virginia’s share of $5 billion in weatherization funding included in the Obama administration’s $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act economic stimulus package passed in 2009. The program was supposed to create and preserve construction jobs.

“We found problems in the areas of weatherization workmanship, financial management, prioritization of applicants for weatherization services, and compliance with laws and regulations,” wrote Gregory Friedman, the Energy Department’s inspector general, in a memorandum accompanying the audit.

Friedman said the risk of failing to create jobs and upgrade homes, as well as fraud and abuse, is unacceptable unless the state fixes the problems.

West Virginia is supposed to upgrade roughly 3,500 homes. By October, the state reported it had spent $16.3 million upgrading 1,800 homes.

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