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Green Building News

In New Jersey, Weatherization’s Bureaucratic Meltdown

Agency turmoil, supervision and auditing failures, and contractor confusion force officials to rewire the state’s program

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.”

4 Comments

  1. James | | #1

    New jersey Wap budget
    Using the bugdet provided in the article above - 118.8 million to weatherize 13,380 homes - comes to about $800,000 per home...

    I am a contractor working and living in northern New Jersey and I have seen the work that WAP contractors do in homes and apartments. I estimate that the typical job I've seen is about $4000 maximum (leaving aside my criticism of material spec.s and installation methods which makes the final product virtually worthless)

    I am all for the government spending money to make US housing more energy efficient, .

    However if your numbers above are correct something is seriously wrong. Please confirm that the figures are correct

  2. User avater GBA Editor
    Richard Defendorf | | #2

    Re NJ's WAP budget
    Thanks for checking in on this. A bit more information on New Jersey's participation in WAP can be found here: http://www.state.nj.us/recovery/programs/wap.html

    The $118.8 million figure (covering the three-year duration of the expanded program) is correct. That includes $22.8 million for training and technical assistance, which would leave about $7,200 per home if the state sticks to its 13,400-home retrofit goal.

  3. James | | #3

    Re NJ's WAP budget
    My Goof, I don't work with 9 figure amounts much... guess you knew that... Anyway, that is comforting and as you write they are subject to fair wage guidelines (which is nearly Union scale) so what I precieve as a $4000 job would easily become $7200. And by the way I think fair wage is Fair (but thats another subject) Thanks, now I don't have to write my congress man on this one.

  4. Anonymous | | #4

    WAP Poor Administration
    I'm glad they got rid of the Manager who was in charge of the DCA, WAP, she was the worst. When the news first came out about DCA poor performance, I told my daughter they need to get rid of that Manager and sure enough a week later she was fired. I am one of the very few management companies who put together all the documents to qualify low income residents in our buildings and that Manager always gave me a hard time. Instead of encouraging people she discouraged people. Hopefully, new Administration will have the spirit of making this possilbe as the Obama Administration goal was.

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