in Houston, Texas
Bogart knows how to whistle; the federal government knows how to spend: Goals are unclear in the frenzy to use billions in weatherization stimulus dollars.
Monday, Aug 16, 2010, 12:27PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
bacall

Being in the stimulus tracking game, I long ago acquired deep sea scuba certification to keep from drowning in a bottomless sea of unattributed numbers.

In keeping with this nautical theme, I like to think of these astronomical sums, totals, estimates and projections in terms of one of my favorite movies, "To Have and Have Not."


In addition to a classic first pairing of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, the film is graced with the presence of Walter Brennan who plays Eddie, a rummy and Bogart's sidekick.


In one of the many memorable scenes, Capt. Renard, a Nazi played with corpulent malevolence by Dan Seymour, grows frustrated by Eddie's refusal to tell the truth about his part in smuggling members of the underground by boat the night before. Instead, Eddie tells a fish story, over and over. 


"Every time Mr. Eddie takes a drink," an exasperated Capt. Renard tells Bogart's complicit Harry Morgan, "this fabulous fish grows larger."


When it comes to the stimulus' weatherization program, it feels sometimes like the entire federal government is on a bender. Take this most recent press release:

"The Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) reached an important milestone in June and weatherized over 30,000 homes with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds, exceeding goals set for the Program by the Department of Energy (DOE)."

Written in just this way, the release doesn't say if that milestone was reached for the month of June or since the Weatherization Assistance Program was approved in February 2009.

 

The release does not go on to say what goals were exceeded or what the goal for weatherization of homes is for the duration of the program until August 2011.


Given that the release was issued by the National Association for State Community Services Programs, made up of state and regional administrators for the program through the U.S. Department of Energy, you might assume the association might have these answers. If so, the secret is safe with Bob Scott, who penned the press release and did not respond to an e-mail.


You might also assume, given the connection to the Department of Energy, that the 30,000 homes figure might turn up somewhere on its website or anywhere else it might be corroborated. But then, you probably haven't been plying these treacherous weatherization waters before. If you root around long enough and your mask doesn't fog up completely, you can find this Department of Energy chart that with 25,231 units completed in May, the 30,000 figure is realistic for the month of June.


At the risk of assuming again, if 30,000 is accurate, this would mean 164,167 home units have been weatherized with federal stimulus money, or 27.7 percent of the 593,000 units the Department of Energy originally estimated would be weatherized by the termination of the program.


Not surprisingly, the percentage of units weatherized is almost identical to the percentage of Weatherization Assistance Program money spent by the 15 biggest weatherization programs in the country. Exasperated much like Capt. Renard, I used the Department of Energy Recovery Act Awardees, June 25, 2010 database to create a spreadsheet, which you can find here.


The top 15 programs represent $3 billion in awards or 60 percent of the entire $5 billion Weatherization Assistance Program. These programs have so far spent more than $793 million or 26.4 percent of the $3 billion total through July 30.


This means that the top programs have spent a little more than a quarter of their money in the first 18 months of what was supposed to have been a 24-month program. And while most states have extended their deadlines for completion of weatherizing jobs by another six months, four of the top eight states have spent less than 20 percent of their money. Texas has spent $53.5 million or 16.4 percent of its nearly $327 million.


Now that I've created this chart, I don't suppose I'll have to wait long for some federal agency to announce that Texas and every other state in my Top 15 have exceeded their goals.


Whatever they might be.

 

Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org.

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