The vast and rapid expansion of the Weatherization Assistance Program has brought out the best and worst in the state agencies trying to implement the program. The Department of Community Affairs, which is managing New Jersey’s current, $64 million allocation of WAP funds, seems to be struggling mightily with the latter.
Some critics of the DCA complain that New Jersey’s management of the program has been plagued by problems almost since WAP was launched 33 years ago. And with the program’s massive, stimulus-funded expansion, those problems have been magnified commensurately.
“It got a large influx of money and it never fixed its problems from the past,” Jeff Tittel, the state director of the Sierra Club, told the Star-Ledger, a Newark-based newspaper that has been following WAP tribulations in New Jersey. “It became a big problem with big money rather than a little problem with little money.”
Complications part of the turf
As the DCA grappled with administrative snafus and confusion in several areas – from contractor hiring to budget supervision to client evaluation and project auditing – the 22 community agencies delegated to help move things along fell farther and farther behind schedule, according to DCA audits released in March and November of this year.
To be sure, when the WAP was expanded, via the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, to include a $5 billion three-year budget, it also included new provisions that threw more than a few state agencies for a loop: Lawmakers added a requirement that workers be paid prevailing wage rates. But because this was the first time many weatherization agencies had to deal with the requirement, which is grounded in the Davis-Bacon Act, a federal law adopted in 1931, it took longer than expected, on a county-by-county basis, to research and set the rates.
Retooling under pressure
Still, New Jersey’s WAP situation ranks among the most challenging. Through July, the 22 community agencies under DCA charge had completed fewer than 13% of their 8,288-home workload, according to the DCA audit released this month, which tracked WAP progress in New Jersey from April 2009 through July 2010. On November 18, DCA cut funding for seven of the agencies, citing their failure to complete at least 15% of their target workload. Those agencies, in turn, cited bureaucratic red tape and inconsistent direction from DCA for their relatively slow WAP progress. The state’s longtime weatherization program manager also has been replaced.
The DCA audit also exposed weak financial oversight and improper purchases, Star-Ledger reports have noted. New Jersey was allocated a total of $118.8 million for WAP work to be completed over three years. Its goal is to weatherize 13,381 homes during that period. Nationally, the WAP completion rate is 44%.
Robert Wright, manager of policy, programs, and planning at DCA, agreed that the state’s WAP implementation has been disappointing, but told the paper changes are underway. Which is another way of suggesting that there’s nowhere to go but up.
“Right now we have new management in place,” he said. “We’re looking at this as largely a new start.”