Feds look at Ill. weatherization program

February 17, 2010 8:29:10 PM PST
Illinois received $242 million of stimulus money to weatherize homes throughout the state. Federal inspectors are concerned that Illinois isn't keeping a close enough watch on the projects and the money. But there's no question that weatherization is helping to save energy and putting people to work.

ABC7 has been tracking some of the programs spending that money throughout the year.

Weatherizing an apartment building in Wicker Park is dropping heating bills and putting people to work.

"This year alone we've been able to increase our employment by 20 people," said Wahid Abdullah, project manager.

The project involves installing hundreds of storm windows and replacing the building's furnace.

"Weatherization has sort of been the best kept secret in Washington for many years," said John Hamilton, director of weatherization, CEDA.

The Community and Economic Development Association of Cook County or CEDA is in charge of the more than 39 million weatherization stimulus dollars allocated to Chicago and Cook County. It plans to use the money to weatherize 6,000 homes.

"I think the weatherization program is one of the most closely monitored that there is," said Hamilton.

No one is questioning CEDA's work or management of stimulus funds. But a report from the Department of Energy is raising questions about how the state of Illinois manages its weatherization program.

A report from the Department of Energy's inspector general shows auditors found "significant internal control" problems requiring "immediate attention" when they audited weatherization work throughout the state.

In one case, they found substandard installation that created a gas leak that could have resulted in serious injury" or placed homeowners safety in jeopardy.

"Basically, the state of Illinois wasn't prepared for it and I think a lot of the states weren't prepared for it," said Peter Fotos, Heartland Institute.

Peter Fotos of the libertarian think tank the Heartland Institute says these problems may just be the beginning.

"When you infuse $780 billion into the economy as fast as you can, you give it to groups to distribute it as they will, things are going to fall through the cracks," said Fotos.

State officials say they have some concerns and disagreements about findings in the audit. They sent those to the Department of Energy. This isn't the only stimulus program under scrutiny in Illinois. Several contracts at Scott Air Force Base went to contractors under criminal investigation.