Monday, January 3, 2011

Making Needed Changes

In last week’s article I wrote about the 1995 report which had been commissioned by then Governor Frank Keating. The Keating report was entitled, “A Government As Good As Our People,” and analyzed some of the challenges to holding Oklahoma state government accountable.

The report was produced by the Commission of Government Performance which was comprised of business and community leaders from across Oklahoma working with a team of 50 state employees.

As you will recall from last week’s article, I describe how the findings in the report appeared to be mostly ignored by Oklahoma lawmakers at the time.

The subject matter of last week’s article focused on those findings with the state’s governance structure and the need to downsize the number of agencies, boards and commissions (ABCs). I also wrote about the report’s suggestion that we empower the Governor and also the people of Oklahoma to hold unresponsive and inefficient agency leaders to account.

There were a number of other findings in the report which I found to be of interest.

For example, the 5.3 billion dollars of unfunded retirement system liabilities were an area of serious concern brought out by the authors of the report. The report advised Oklahoma policy makers to take immediate steps to address the unfunded liability problem. That advice simply was not heeded! In just the teachers’ retirement system alone, the state is liable for over 10 billion dollars of unfunded obligation today. I cannot begin to comprehend how the policy makers of 15 years ago could ignore these findings and not reform Oklahoma’s retirement systems.

Instead of taking action, Oklahoma politicians continued to raise retirement benefits without finding a way to make up for the unfunded liabilities.

Finding a remedy for these liabilities is a task we can accomplish by immediately transferring all pre-vested state and education employees who participate in the state’s two largest retirement funds into a defined-contribution retirement system. In order to meet the legacy unfunded liabilities handed down to us by generations of irresponsible politicians, we must sell non-essential state assets and properly fund our obligations to current retirees. This strategy will ensure that the liabilities are met and will get politicians out of the business of the retirement system.

Another recommendation of the report which I found interesting was the suggestion that Oklahoma should consolidate its state government IT operations under unified oversight and management.

This suggestion was also not heeded by legislators and for years, millions of dollars of uncoordinated spend went through Oklahoma’s many agency level IT departments.

Readers of past updates will recall the tremendous commitment for legislative leaders to finally accomplish this task during the 2009 legislative session. As a result, Oklahoma became one of the last states to design a state Chief Information Officer’s position with the power to conduct long term IT planning.

The impact of this reform could be felt as soon as this budget year as the state CIO prepares to release a report demonstrating millions of dollars of savings through a consolidated state IT operation.

Had the report’s suggestion been followed fifteen years ago, millions of dollars would have been saved because the state could have conducted a cohesive IT approach as new technologies evolved.

It is now our job as legislators to adopt more of these types of common sense reforms and stop playing the political games which have caused so much unnecessary cost to Oklahoma taxpayers.