Stimulus spending problems re-addressed

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tennessee's commissioner of human services has responded to the state comptroller of the treasury who last week took the social service agency to task for allowing federal stimulus money to be "wasted or misspent."

"I am puzzled by your letter of Dec. 20," Human Services Commissioner Virginia Lodge wrote to Comptroller Justin P. Wilson shortly after his office issued press releases when he wrote to her about money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

ARRA money comes with increased audit requirements and when it's been applied to programs that have been in place for decades, it strains the system, Lodge told Wilson, noting the U.S. Department of Energy's Weatherization program grew from $5 million to $99 million "overnight."

Wilson's auditors found instances of poorly installed insulation, program recipients who were not qualified for the help and, among other things, some contractors who were paid for work that wasn't performed.

With an increase in spending by nearly 20 times what had been received, Lodge said "It was necessary to radically redesign our program in order to ensure accountability..."

Waste and misspending issues found by Wilson's auditors will be treated "just as we have the previous 352 jobs for which we have questioned the cost," Lodge told Wilson in response to his letter and press releases last week when the Department of Human Services faced criticism.

Lodge listed steps taken since June 2009 to ensure federal money was being spent as it should be. Following her chronology, Lodge assured Wilson that her department and its associates are serious about spending money as designated.

"We agree that agencies or individuals who want to misuse public funds should be held accountable," Lodge told Wilson, "and we will continue to do so."