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Stimulus Audit: Taxpayers Paid $27 Per Light Bulb?

November 12, 2010

New Jersey state auditor Stephen Eels has released a report decrying tens of thousands of dollars in “unreasonable costs” — including $27 light bulbs — in a “weatherization” program funded with U.S. stimulus money, Bloomberg reports.

According to report from the state auditor’s office which reviewed just a fraction of the $119 million stimulus project, lackluster oversight resulted in serious taxpayer-funded discrepancies, including one contractor who billed $27 for light bulbs, while another charged just $1.50 for the same wattage.

In another case, one vendor charged $75 for carbon-monoxide detectors for one project and $22 for the same detector on a different project. Eels’ report also cited $32,700 in “auditing fees” when “no services had been performed,” and $69,000 in “construction costs” which couldn’t be verified.

Out of $613,600 in charges reviewed, $54,000, or 8.8 percent, was deemed unreasonable by Auditor Stephen Eells, according to a Nov. 8 report to lawmakers. The audit examined program oversight by the state Community Affairs Department.

“Weatherization agencies have been reimbursed for unreasonable costs because of inadequate review of financial reports and lack of guidance from the state and federal governments,” said the audit. It said the state agency’s review of contractor expenditures was “cursory.”

The state didn’t pay for the $27 light bulbs and the $75 carbon-monoxide detectors after the audit, according to Lori Grifa, the Community Affairs Department’s commissioner. Since Eells began the review, the two most-senior state employees overseeing the program have been replaced and a third has been reassigned, she said in a written response to the audit.

In May, the department hired an accounting firm to review invoices from the 23 agencies that carry out the weatherization work under program contracts, Grifa said. The added controls will help the state make more than 13,000 residential units more energy efficient within three years, she said.

New Jersey is just one of many states receiving stimulus grant funds for new “weatherization” projects.  Out of last year’s $814 billion stimulus plan, about $5 billion were allocated to the weatherization program, according to the Energy Department.

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