A newly released state audit now confirms what a NewsChannel 5 investigation found earlier this year -- serious problems with the state's weatherization program.
Tennessee received more than $100 million from the federal government to make the homes of low income folks more energy efficient. Now the state is raising questions about how that money was spent.
These questions are part of a 260 page report done by the state Comptroller's office.
And auditors say the findings regarding the weatherization program are the most concerning because what's at stake is millions of dollars in taxpayer money.
A year and a half ago, Tennessee went from spending about $3 million a year on weatherizing homes to more than $100 million thanks to federal stimulus funds. But that sudden and extreme growth has not been easy for the state's Weatherization Assistance Program.
State Audit Director Art Hayes told NewsChannel5 Investigates, "You combine a major infusion of federal money with a short time period and it's a blueprint for lots of problems."
And, state auditors, in fact, found lots of problems with the program, the results of which are laid out in a just released report. The nearly two dozen findings include everything from work not being done or done incorrectly to work being done by people who were not authorized or properly trained. Auditors also found homes and homeowners who were not eligible for weatherization had work done.
"Indeed, it is a laundry list," Hayes added.
State auditors took a look at only 84 homes, admittedly a small sample. Yet, they found problems in half of them. And, when you consider that the state has weatherized nearly 7,000 homes across Tennessee, auditors say it's likely that there are thousands of homes out there with problems and millions of dollars that have been misspent.
At one home, instead of installing insulation, the contractor left it sitting in the home in its original packaging. At another home, new window panes were never installed. And, elsewhere contractors didn't properly wrap a hot water heater.
"We've corrected them. In most cases, they've already been corrected, "Alan Hall, Inspector General with the Department of Human Services, told NewsChannel5 Investigates.
DHS oversees the weatherization program and Hall admits there were problems early on. But, he downplayed the findings in the state report, insisting that things have changed and that DHS has taken steps to make sure these sorts of problems no longer happen.
Hall explained, "No, folks shouldn't be worried because we have controls in place designed to capture these."
Yet, our own six month investigation earlier this year exposed problems with the program that are more recent. MDHA oversees the work done in Davidson County and NewsChannel5 Investigates found many cases where inexperienced contractors did substandard work, for example. Did Millions Of Dollars For Weatherization Program Pay Off?
And, while other states have had similar problems, Tennessee's state audit director says he's relieved that his team didn't uncover any fraud here.
"When I say, 'We're fortunate in Tennessee that we haven't had fraud,' there's still waste and abuse. And, every dollar that's spent on this program that isn't spent properly is money that's wasted," Hayes said.
DHS now says it's doing more training and is verifying more of the work that's being done. State auditors though are still cautious and say their findings "call into question" whether the steps DHS is taking are really working. And with so much money at play here, auditors say every step necessary should be taken to make sure that money is in fact well-spent.
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