Two recent reports, one from the GAO and one from the Department of Energy’s Inspector General, both address the delays states have had in using stimulus dollars to get their homes weatherized due to a variety of issues. You may recall that we recently posted a video of Washington’s Governor Christine Gregoire fulminating about this issue.
The biggest single obstacle has come in complying with the Davis-Bacon Act, which mandates that the U.S. Department of Labor set wage rates for federally funded or assisted projects. It requires that workers involved in such efforts be paid according to prevailing wages for their jobs and geographic region. But what makes this requirement so time consuming? We were curious, talked to some smart folks in several states, and thought we’d fill you in on some of the reasons that Davis-Bacon has slowed progress.
- Figuring out the local prevailing wage usually means a county-by-county survey. In job areas, like weatherization, that hadn’t previously dealt with Davis-Bacon requirements, surveys had to be done after the money already started to flow. The wage guidance wasn’t completed until last October.
- Part of the difficulty of determining rates for workers in this field is that weatherization encompasses a broad variety of jobs, from electrical work to heating or ductwork to carpentry or welding.
- Even though the Secretaries of Labor and Energy insisted in July 2009 that weatherization work could begin before the wage determinations were completed, many states and their contractors were unwilling to take on the additional headache of figuring out back pay, should they have over- or underestimated payments to workers—especially when some of those workers might have moved on to different jobs by the time the certifications came out.
- Finally, one somewhat strange provision complicated and slowed the situation even further: weatherization projects in buildings taller than four stories required that workers be paid commercial prevailing wage rates, which are higher than those that would otherwise be used for weatherization projects.
In Washington and elsewhere, weatherization is finally getting on track, if a bit later and perhaps a bit more expensively than some had hoped. All seems to be improving, but it’s a little premature to declare sunny days ahead. We’ll tell you more about this soon.