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Inspections of weatherized homes get scrutiny

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on Aug. 24, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
August 24, 2011 3:14 pm

The state’s home-weatherization program has seen its work multiply because of federal stimulus money. A performance audit released today by State Auditor Brian Sonntag‘s office found mixed results.

First, a look at the work that has been done with the help of nearly $60 million in Recovery Act funding for Washington:

The projects — meant to reduce energy use in needy families’ homes through new insulation and furnaces, more energy-efficient windows and the like — got off to a slow start in 2009 but ramped up in 2010, with contractors weatherizing more than 8,049 Washington housing units that year. The average in 2005-2008 had been about 3,300.

Local agencies like Pierce County Community Services and the Metropolitan Development Council of Tacoma contract for the improvements, with oversight from the Department of Commerce which hands out the money.

There were 329 housing units weatherized through the Tacoma nonprofit last year, more than triple any of the previous five years. Another 742 homes were weatherized by Pierce County.

The audit found good and bad in Commerce’s monitoring. For example, the state did plenty of inspections checking over the shoulders of the local agencies, auditors found. But state officials didn’t consistently follow up to make sure agencies fixed problems, according to the audit.

After one inspection, which found the state had paid $7,300 for incomplete work on a project, the local agency went back in. But a re-check last September found the corrective work was itself faulty. The roof was leaking where a bathroom fan had been installed, causing a mold problem.

That September check involved 47 homes where local agencies said problems were corrected, and found incomplete or shoddy work in nine of them. In its response to the audit, the Department of Commerce called that an “unacceptable” rate of problems, and said it’s testing out new procedures for verifying corrections that will be fully developed by October.

The department “rigorously inspects weatherized units reported as complete and inspected by local agencies,” it said in its response.

Auditors criticized another inspection in which a local agency was allowed to pick the project that state officials would inspect. Commerce called that an anomaly, saying an employee of the agency had refused to cooperate with Commerce officials, and the agency later fired the employee.

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