Implementation of the Recovery Act is not only creating jobs while advancing science and technology; it is also giving us at EERE an opportunity to improve our own efficiency and effectiveness. To make the most of this opportunity, EERE’s Office of Field Operations (FO) conducted a comprehensive analysis of audit findings related to programs that EERE sponsored or implemented under the Recovery Act. The analysis covers [more than/almost] sixty audits undertaken between February 2009 and May 2011 by the Department’s Office of the Inspector General and the US Government Accountability Office, as well as by outside auditors that reviewed recipients’ use of EERE financial assistance. The audits cover both EERE as a whole and individual EERE programs, spanning projects in every state, the District of Columbia, and several US territories and Native American tribal lands.
Like other federal agencies, DOE faced an enormous challenge in rapidly deploying a vast infusion of Recovery Act funds with aggressive performance targets. Strict requirements for reporting, procurement, risk mitigation, and monitoring of funds encouraged efficient allocation of taxpayer dollars. The Department rose to the occasion, quickly adding new staff and instituting a wide range of new policies and procedures to fulfill Recovery Act program mandates. For example, EERE’s Office of Field Operations developed formal monitoring plans and implemented a centralized system to allow for better reporting of monitoring data. (These plans are available on EERE’s Office of Field Operations site.)
EERE’s analysis of these audits has already helped us identify and address several common problems that affected the Department’s Recovery Act-funded projects. For example, state and local agencies that were previously working at substantially lower levels of funding had varying capabilities to ramp-up their operations to make quick and effective use of the large infusion of new funds. Recipient implementation and internal controls to monitor and track program funding were sometimes limited. These difficulties were often compounded by a small staff or limited IT resources. Many EERE team members respond to this challenge through regular communication with Recipients and through technical assistance.
The audits have also revealed a need and an opportunity for EERE to improve its own operations. Recipients at the state and local level were concerned that they received inconsistent guidelines and criteria from the Department. To create a more uniform resource from EERE, the Weatherization and Intergovernmental Program (WIP) created a Program Guidance website, which serves as a library of official guidance on key Recovery Act requirements, like the Buy American provision and the Davis-Bacon Act.
FO’s analysis identifies the audit findings’ trends and lessons learned and will help improve the implementation of EERE programs. It also looks beyond the Recovery Act to enhance the design, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation of future EERE programs.