AG rules that location of weatherization assistance program activities is secret

For the past few months we’ve had an open record request pending at TDHCA for a copy of their “Previously Weatherized Units” database.  This database is used by TDHCA to keep track of the weatherization activities of its subcontractors.  As part of our American Recovery and Reinvestment Act accountability initiative, we’d like to keep track of that too.

Upon our request, TDHCA informed us that the database was already the subject of a challenged open records request by Texas Watchdog, and would only release a redacted version while waiting for the OAG’s ruling on the challenge.  We used that redacted database for our analysis of the extent of “local job” creation in the program.

The OAG ruled on this at the end of last month, and to our surprise, opined that the addresses of weatherized units was “personal information” that should be withheld from the public.  The opinion appears to rest on Department of Energy (DOE) rules that assume that revealing a property is eligible for the program is tantamount to revealing the occupant’s income.

TxLIHIS disagrees.  According to a 2009 CPPP report, 37% of Texans are at or below 200% of the federal poverty level and would be income-eligible for the program.  Revealing a house is WAP-eligible tells the public very little “specifically identifying” information regarding the income of the resident.

What it does tell the public is where and how the money is being spent on single-family homes, adding an important level of public accountability to the program. It would, for example, allow us to interview participants about their experience with the program and examine the quality of work performed.

The DOE’s Open Government Plan has an “openness goal” of “Increasing DOE accountability to the public.”  TxLIHIS calls on the DOE to make a meaningful commitment to this goal by revising its rules to allow the public to track WAP activities.

We should be able to see how this money is being spent.