Sunday, November 29, 2009

Giving the Governor the Power to Reform Government

Over the legislative interim, I have enjoyed observing the manner in which state agencies are reacting to the series of government modernization reforms approved by the Legislature and the Governor during the last legislative session.

Some agencies react to the challenge of saving taxpayer money in an energetic and positive manner. They are supportive of modernization efforts and seem to take to heart the importance of using technology and best practice to offer better service at a lower cost. Other agencies instinctively resist change and appear desperate to maintain the status quo of antiquated practices. These agencies can resist change by intentionally misinterpreting state statute or simply refusing to meet the requirements of the law.

This naturally presents a dilemma to Oklahoma policy makers. How should policy makers address the fact that agencies can hide behind a team of attorneys and refuse to implement needed changes? And what should occur if an agency refuses to put in place the necessary internal processes to control issues such as corruption and poor service?

Last week I wrote an article about county government's failure to have the appropriate check and balance mechanism necessary to make it difficult for corruption to occur at the county level. I believe that this same deficiency of control mechanisms exists in state government. In too many cases, when an agency refuses to put proper internal controls in place to follow the law, provide quality service and low prices, or prevent corruption, there is little that can be done to check their actions.

In last week's article, I pointed to the city model of governance as an example where professional administration is overseen by the check and balance of citizen oversight. Using that same example, can you imagine an instance where a city manager could not fire a police chief who was responsible for allowing corruption in his department?

In too many cases, this is the problem faced by Oklahoma state government policy makers, because it is very difficult for agency leaders to be removed by a responsible person, such as the Governor. If the Governor were given the power to remove agency directors for acting inappropriately, it would allow the buck to stop at the Governor's desk. If the Governor refused to take action, the people could hold him or her responsible at the next election.

With the exception of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission and Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation officials (agencies responsible for investigating political corruption), I believe the Governor should be charged with the task of removing agency directors who have failed to meet their responsibilities to the citizens.

I look forward to supporting this plan for reform during the next legislative session.

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