The Colorado Energy Office has been a target of GOP critics for years. With the release last week of a blistering audit of the organization the bulls eye on its back just got a lot bigger.
The CEO, formerly the Governor’s Energy Office, was a darling of the Ritter Administration during which it received millions in federal funding from the Obama White House to develop energy efficiency programs and other initiatives. The goals of these initiatives may have been admirable, and, indeed, real progress was made in making homes and businesses in the state more energy efficient, but at what cost to taxpayers critics are asking.
Last week a Senate Republican proposed freezing spending until the CEO gets a handle on its accounting.
“Any other place you get an audit like this, you shut it down, you clean it up and you re-evaluate,” said Sen. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs, who proposed the freeze. “We need to take the same practice here. We need to protect Colorado taxpayers.
“This is not a Democrat or Republican issue. This is a trust issue.”
Some of the biggest problems the audit found occured during a time when Republican lawmakers regularly challenged the Ritter administration on the mission of the Energy Office because of concerns over how much money, from transportation and other areas, was being diverted to renewable energy.
Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, was quoted in the Denver Post as telling colleagues he was frustrated by some Energy Office presentations because he couldn’t seem to get details. The office would talk about how much heating bills had dropped in a particular home that had been weatherized but couldn’t say how much it cost to fix the house.
“All we saw were pictures and PowerPoints,” Cadman said. “That’s not enough.”
For his part, Ritter, who is among a handful of individuals being considered to head President Obama’s Department of Energy, defended the office.
“We were very much budget-minded from start to finish.”
And Tom Plant, who headed the Energy Office during Ritter’s tenure, said, he was frustrated to be blamed for the results of the audit performed under the adminstration of another governor.
The audit found multiple problems with the Colorado Energy Office:
— SLOPPY SPENDING: Auditors concluded that the energy office couldn’t show that $252 million spent over the past six years was spent cost-effectively. $144 million of that came from federal stimulus money.
— LACK OF FOCUS: Employees in the office weren’t always sure what certain program goals were, or whether they were being met.
— NO PAPERWORK: Auditors reviewed 22 contracts issued by the energy office and found that 20 had incorrect or missing information in the state contract database. Thirteen of those were missing required contractor progress reports.
— NO FOLLOWUP: Of the 59 payments to contractors auditors reviewed, 10 totaling $1.5 million were not supported by adequate evidence of contractor progress.
— TRAVEL QUESTIONS: Auditors found missing paper work for 40 travel and other expenditures. The energy office’s misspending included $1,500 for an ex-employee to attend training after termination.
— HIGH TURNOVER: At the end of 2010, the office had 14 core staff members. Only one remained with the agency by the end of 2012.
Source: Office of the State Auditor