Blistering Audit Hits Colorado Energy Office

Kristen Wyatt of the Associated Press reports, and no denying this doesn't look good:

Colorado's embattled energy development office is plagued by misspending, sloppy accounting and high turnover, according to a blistering state audit released Tuesday.

The review blasted the Colorado Energy Office for a number of issues, including not keeping track of travel expenses and contracts, and not following up to make sure projects were complete.

The audit concluded the agency can't demonstrate the $252 million spent over the past six years was used cost-effectively. Much of that amount — $144 million from fiscal years 2009 through 2012 — was federal stimulus money…

Auditors found that between 2007 and 2012, the agency had no comprehensive annual budget for 34 programs and couldn't determine the amount spent on any of them. Auditors reviewed eight of those programs in depth, finding that staff couldn't identify goals or whether any of them [Pols emphasis] had been achieved.

We'll start by agreeing that nobody should defend sloppy accounting in this office any more than one would in, for example, the Colorado Secretary of State's office, or other recent boondoggles like the state's trouble-plagued benefits management software. Waste is never okay, and the same can be said of taxpayer-funded projects without clearly defined objectives. That said, today's story does appear to contain a significant error:

Of the eight programs we reviewed in-depth, staff responsible for three programs [Pols emphasis] could not identify the program’s goals or say whether the goals had been achieved. 

We feel like that's an important correction: 3 of 8 is not the same as 8 of 8. Check out the original audit report in its entirety here

Here's the bottom line: the Governor's Energy Office (after 2012, the Colorado Energy Office) really does have an important mission, and is widely attributed success as part of a larger strategy to encourage renewable energy development. Last year, bipartisan legislation, House Bill 12-1315 sponsored by Rep. Jon Becker (R) and Sen. Pat Steadman (D) expanded the office's mission to promote natural gas and other forms of energy production in Colorado in addition to renewables. That said, a lot of the funding we're talking about went into grants to local residences and business to improve energy efficiency, as well as direct heating assistance for low-income families. We're not going to get into how you quantify success with some of these programs, but it's not like you can just summarily declare the money was all wasted.

Significantly for management purposes, we've heard that the office has suffered from a lack of leadership–to date, Gov. John Hickenlooper has not even appointed an Executive Director to the Colorado Energy Office. This audit makes several recommendations for reforming the office that Hickenlooper, where the buck stops today, needs to take seriously.

Above all, what shouldn't be allowed to happen here is a denigration of the larger goals of promoting cleaner energy and energy efficiency. This wouldn't be the first time that an important goal has been done a disserved by poor management, and the old rule of not throwing the baby out with the bathwater applies.

11 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. I assume, with no appointed executive director, that Hickenlooper is managing the Energy Office directly?  If so, then this is no surprise.  He got what he wanted when the mission was changed to include natural gas, and I assume he is still getting what he wants out of the office (which is not nearly enough for my taste).

    Even if you accept the premise that natural gas is better than coal – it will not last forever.  Using it up instead of going full-speed toward complete renewability is foolish in the extreme.  And if it turns out, as many of us suspect, that natural gas extraction is an unmitigated disaster, well, then woe on all of us for allowing it.

    I want to see the Governor's response to this audit.  This situation is unacceptable.

  2. Sir RobinSir Robin says:

    This is relevant…and welcome news. I agree wholeheartedly with Gypsum Town Manager Jeff Shroll in the article:

    Converting pine beetle killed timber into energy is good common sense as far as I can tell.


  3. DavidThi808DavidThi808 says:

    I do know on electric vehicles they've spent tens of millions on studies that don't provide any new information and placing charging stations where they sit unused. So total waste of money on that area.

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