Sunday, January 31, 2010

Adopting a Uniform Social Media Policy

Last week I enjoyed being in attendance at a Social Media conference which encouraged participants to engage in discussion and strategy sharing regarding their use of social media. Myself and State Representative Joe Dorman were in attendance to share our experiences of using social media as Legislators.

This forum provided me with an opportunity to explain how House Bill 2318 will empower the state's Chief Information Officer (CIO) to develop and implement uniform social media policies by which state government can use social media.

I believe this is extremely important as social media provides the potential to establish an effective feedback mechanism in which the citizens can let state officials, and everyone else for that matter, know about the performance of state government.

In the past, when a citizen was ill-served by state government they likely had a few select channels into which they could direct their story of state government's failure to perform. They could place a call to the bureaucracy which had performed poorly and with luck their complaint might reach up into the bureaucracy at some level. However, it is extremely unlikely that the leadership in that particular bureaucracy would ever hear about, much less remedy, the wrong. In too many cases the citizen's voice simply goes unheard.

I believe state government should adopt social media as a feedback tool much like the private sector is now proving possible.

For instance, a few months ago, speaking on the Charlie Rose television show, the CEO of Hulu, Jason Kilar, explained that he uses twitter as a mechanism for seeing what the people are saying about his company. He said that several times a day he checks for the use of the term "Hulu" on twitter. Not only can he can use this feedback to change his company's services to meet the need of the customer but he now knows firsthand how the customers feel about the product. After his appearance on the Charlie Rose show, a twitter user tested Kilar by posting a tweet asking if Kilar was watching. Kilar proved that he was watching by responding directly to this message.

Now, imagine the possibilities when the executives of government agencies will have this same ability to see and respond firsthand to those who are immediately affected by their decision making. The response of these officials would be public material and available for everyone to see from the comfort of their own homes thus providing for real accountability.

Currently state agencies operate under various assumptions about their legal ability to use social media tools. From limited liability issues to concerns surrounding open records requirements, there are any number of legal barriers to agencies that serve to disincentive their use of the tools. Our job as legislators is to clear these barriers and put in place a set of standards by which social media tools can serve to make state government more responsive to the citizens.

Next week I intend to write about how social media can provide state government with a data delivery mechanism which will be used to provide a level of transparency and accountability to the citizens which has never before been possible.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Open Door Policy - Jan. 25, 2010 (lottery/casino education funding)

I hope everyone had a great weekend! I had the chance to see some great basketball during the county tournaments, along with watching Oklahoma State on TV get their best road win in 52 years against #9 Kansas State . The Grady County basketball tournament was exceptionally special since Jack Jerman was recognized for his retirement and I worked with Gov. Henry to get Saturday, Jan. 23 dedicated as “Dale Smith Day” for the state of Oklahoma , named after the deceased school superintendent from Friend. Dale was great to work with and he is greatly missed by all who had him as an educator.
Along the lines of education, I have been requesting information regarding school lottery funding in conjunction with legislation I have been reviewing from other legislators, and I thought you also might be interested in the data. The breakdown goes as follows:
The legislation creating the lottery was passed during my first term of office in 2003 and ratified by the people on the general election ballot of 2004. The bill which was passed specified that 45 percent of the lottery funds would go to prizes, while education programs receive 35 percent and administration of the lottery, including advertising, would get the remaining 20 percent.
With the 35 percent going to education, the breakdown with this since 2006 includes common education generally receiving 45 percent, the School Consolidation Assistance Fund receiving 5 percent and the Teachers Retirement Dedicated Revenue Fund receiving five percent, all considered common education programs for a total of 55 percent of the breakdown. Higher education has received 40.5 percent, career technology schools have garnered 4.43 percent and rehabilitative services received a one-time amount of $250,000, which totaled the remaining percentage.
Common education’s percentage can be used for a number of purposes under the law relating to education from Kindergarten through twelfth grade. As it was decided by the legislature, the Oklahoma Lottery would mainly be used for teachers’ salaries to bring them closer to the regional average and deter losing many educators to Texas and other states with higher salary averages. Due to this decision, it naturally followed that these monies run through the School Funding Formula, since that is how teachers’ salaries are funded by law for equity.
Another point is that lottery funds are allocated based upon estimation of the proceeds the state will receive through ticket sales. Two of the years had significant shortfalls in estimation, to the total of $59 million dollars. This was made up by monies from the General Revenue Fund during those years. The numbers have been accurate over the past two years, so no supplemental funds have been required to make up losses. The total net amount collected through the Oklahoma Lottery over the four year period so far has been $278,733,247.
Another question on gaming issues is why we do not see more from tribal casinos in Oklahoma ? This is largely in part to the tribes running the casinos being considered separate nations by federal law. The State of Oklahoma works with 39 separate tribes/nations located in Oklahoma and the state must negotiate changes through a compacting process. This is done by the governor and his staff and only happens over a period of years based upon when the compact will come up for re-negotiation. In order to receive a higher percentage of revenue, the state must negotiate to increase that amount with tribal leaders and often times, must submit something in exchange for agreement. The federal government has established this process by setting up the current system of how the United States recognizes the various Indian nations and their membership.
Current Oklahoma law states that tribes shall distribute 10 percent of the proceeds to the Oklahoma Tax Commission, minus $20,833. This amount is taken monthly for gambling addiction treatment programs administered through the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse. Of the remaining, 88 percent of this goes to the Education Reform Revolving Fund, which was created by House Bill 1017. This is distributed to the school districts through the State Department of Education. The remaining 12 percent goes into the General Revenue Fund. That 12 percent was originally dedicated to the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Trust Fund for college tuition, but in Fiscal Year 2009, the money was diverted to the General Revenue Fund because OHLAP, now called Oklahoma ’s Promise, started receiving its funding off the top of the General Revenue Fund. So, in a sense, the second portion of the tribal casino collections still funds education through these scholarships. Oklahoma ’s Promise provides these scholarships for Oklahoma students who sign up in eighth grade and meet certain criteria during high school. If you are interested in this program, please contact the local school for more information.
In Fiscal Year 2009, the state received a total of $105.7 million from tribes due to casinos. Racinos, which are the horse tracks operated by tribal nations, fall under the same funding formula and they contributed an additional $14 million which went into education funding. These numbers were acquired from the Oklahoma Office of State Finance and information collected from the Oklahoma Lottery Commission by the Ok. House Staff.
It is an honor to represent your views at the State Capitol. If you wish to contact me and discuss one of these or another issue, I can be reached at my office in Oklahoma City toll-free at 1-800-522-8502, or directly at 1-405-557-7305. My e-mail address is at work. My mailing address is PO Box 559 , Rush Springs, OK 73082 and my website is on the Internet. Thank you for taking time to read this column and I look forward to seeing you soon.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Webcast of House of Representative's Proceedings

In recent days there has been a good deal of debate surrounding the fact that the federal Congress is not allowing C-Span cameras to televise the meetings of the health care legislation conference committee. This debate has illustrated the importance of allowing the citizens to observe legislative proceedings.

In the summer of 2008, I wrote a series of articles in which I defined a check list of items which the taxpayer could use to see if their elected official was truly representing the citizens or was representing the bureaucracy, special interests and the status-quo. One of the most important of these items is that of transparency. In my view, transparency issues provide the citizens with a defining issue by which they should hold an office holder accountable.

If the office holder is opposed to openness and transparency then it is my belief that he is acting contrary to the principles of good government and should be replaced as soon as possible. Oftentimes those opposed to these reforms will cloak their arguments behind any number of superfluous arguments but the end result is the same; they don't want the citizens to know what goes on in government.

As a Guthrie City Councilman, I observed the impact that televising city council meetings had on the local governing process. I advocated for the creation of the telecast. I possessed the belief that if just one City Councilman would be wiling to ask questions and represent the citizens through the openness provided by the telecast, the citizens would be able to see for themselves what the issues were and observe the various motivations of the elected officials for themselves. To this day, I enjoy pointing to the City of Guthrie telecast and Internet feed as a demonstration of how the citizens can monitor the activities of local government.

I have strongly advocated that this same type of service be made available for those who wish to monitor the Legislature. I feel the Legislature should set the example in demonstrating the importance of public access to legislative proceedings. Legislative proceedings should have been televised many years ago and I believe the delay in providing this accessibility to the citizens has been inexcusable considering that many city governments, county governments and school boards have been broadcasting their meetings for years.

This is why I am especially appreciative of the fact that Speaker of the House, Chris Benge, has directed that a webcast of House of Representative proceedings will now be made available through the Internet site. The webcast should be available starting with Governor Henry's State of the State address next month. I encourage you to take some time to watch this webcast during the upcoming legislative session. As you observe the legislative proceedings, please do not hesitate to contact me with your input, suggestions and questions about the issues being considered by the Legislature.

Monday, January 18, 2010

House Bill 2310

Over the past few months I have enjoyed working to put in place the legislative framework for this year's House Modernization agenda. This has included sourcing the number of ideas generated over past months, determining the political feasibility of winning legislative approval, constructing a legislative framework to serve as implementation vehicles, and working with other Representatives to incorporate their ideas.

This process has produced one of the Modernization initiatives which I will be sponsoring this year: House Bill 2310. HB2310 contains an aggressive effort to target some of the most obvious waste in state government. The bill will be designed to remedy findings from a recent study of the state's financial processing systems. The study was commissioned by the Office of State Finance. A review was conducted of the state financial services systems and was overseen by a globally recognized consulting group known as the Hackett Corporation. This study indicated that up to 65 million could be saved each year through the implementation of a more efficient state government financials system.

The Hackett study documents that Oklahoma's accounts payable system is incurring high transaction costs and experiencing low productivity because of the under-utilization of technology. For example, Oklahoma spends $20.05 for each invoice in the state's accounts payable system. This compares to peer groups (organizations of like complexity to Oklahoma state government) which spend $3.58 per account payable. In other words, it takes state government six times more resources for each process than similarly sized organizations.

This inefficiency is due in part to the caseload handled by each employee. In Oklahoma state government, each accounts payable full time employee (FTE) handles 2,039 invoices. In the peer groups, each FTE processes 15,693 invoices. Likewise, there are similar inefficiencies in the state's billing system. The state spends $4.63 for each transaction, while peer groups spend $1.07. Each state FTE handles 15,212 bills compared to 70,570 handled by peer groups.

I believe that in addition to the failure to leverage technology to handle this work load, these inefficiencies can also be attributed to the disparate nature of the state's bureaucratic multi-agency system. By creating so many different individually organized divisions within state government, policy leaders have created a terribly ineffective organization.

House Bill 2310 is designed to cut through these barriers and put in place a timetable by which state officials will use technology to remedy some of these inefficiencies.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Modernization Changes Taking Effect

This is the time of year when we start to see the effect of 2009 legislative changes as they become law. This includes the results from House Bill 1032. House Bill 1032 was the 2009 omnibus modernization bill that focused on using the premise of the economic downturn to mandate new government efficiencies, targeted some of the especially egregious examples of government waste and made accessing government services more convenient for the citizens.

Just a few days ago, a provision in House Bill 1032 took effect which requires purchases made by state employees with state purchase cards to be placed online. If you visit, click on the "open books" link, and then "search open books" link, you can review these purchases. Some of them will certainly raise the following question: "In an economic downturn, are these expenditures really necessary?" You will also notice a disproportionately high number of purchases that are simply classified as "General Transaction." In other words, users of these cards have not taken the time to detail what they have spent the money on. This is a practice that should be changed.

Another important component of HB 1032 is a mandate to place state licensing processes online by July 1 of this year. No longer should people be forced to wait in line at a bureaucracy during a business day in order to obtain a license. Instead, you will be able to interact with the government from the comfort of your own home on your own time.

One of these processes which is about to placed online is an offering by the Tax Commission allowing the renewal of motor vehicle plates. The offering is very well designed and performs tasks such as verifying insurance policies and accepting credit card payments almost as easily as the web site allows you to purchase a book.

There is a clause by which certain complex licensing process can be exempt from this 1032 mandate. I intend to monitor these exceptions very closely and work on ways to find solutions so that at some time in the future, all licensing process will be available online, no matter how complex the process.

The Department of Central Services is now operating under significantly different purchasing rules in accordance with legislative changes in House Bill 1032. These changes are designed to allow the department to manage items of large spend and ensure that the state's leveraged buying power is used to get the best deal. DCS is already reporting a state government savings of nearly $5 million, and $8 million to state and local governments. I intend to closely observe the implementation of new purchasing policy, monitor the savings, and see if additional purchasing system reform legislation will be needed one year from now.

Currently we are drafting the next set of modernization which will be designed to incorporate a whole new set of efficiency and transparency initiatives. I will be sure to write about these issues in upcoming articles.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Effect of Term Limits on the Legislature

I find it helpful to use the occasion of the new legislative session to think back about my experiences and observations over the last three years and apply the knowledge picked up from this review to strategize how to conduct my efforts during the next year.
Perhaps you have encountered someone of the belief that in order to win approval for legislation, an elected official must play a political game in which he compromises his principles.
I can distinctly recall the comments of those who asserted it would be nearly impossible to pass legislation because politicians would be alienated with stances such as my pledge to sponsor a bill to reduce legislative pay, refusing lobbyists gifts and contributions, massively reducing government spending and voting against all new debt spending.
However, with the support of a large number of reform-minded legislators, I have been blessed to win approval for a number of legislative initiatives codifying a modernization agenda designed to reduce the size of state government while making it more transparent and accessible to citizens. This was done while still refusing to compromise on these principles.
There is no doubt that some legislators were offended by the pledges. And the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that there would have been a lot of truth in what those naysayers touted had it not been for the fact that Oklahomans forever changed state government by putting in place the policy of term limits.
Up until just a few years ago, the Legislature was dominated by powerful politicians who could easily squash any attempt to seriously disrupt the status-quo. I don't know that I would have ever experienced legislative success in that environment. Alienating a powerful politician by hinting at change could have made a life-long enemy who would have held the reins of power for many years.
Today, there are a large number of legislators who are truly "citizen legislators." as opposed to professional politicians. They have new ideas and don't mind listening to the ideas of others. We certainly do not always agree with each other, but it is not an unpardonable crime to suggest far-ranging changes. I have been honored to develop strong friendships with a large number of reform-minded legislators.
As citizen legislators, we know that we will be out of the Legislature in a short time. We don't have time for petty grudges or blacklisting our colleagues. If we want to effect change, we must work together in the time that we have.
In my view, term limits has been the single most effective tool employed by the people of Oklahoma to bring about a change for a better Oklahoma government.