Monday, July 18, 2011

State Officials Making a Difference

During the past three weeks I have used this medium to describe the role Oklahoma’s newly elected officials have played in working toward smaller state government.

I initially envisioned that I would write about this in just one article. However, I have observed so many different attempts by these officials to eliminate wasteful spending, that one article has grown into four.

I enjoyed the opportunity to work with new Labor Commissioner Mark Costello this year. I spent a significant amount of time this year working with Labor Department officials as part of our state agency consolidation processes. Costello has made of point of declaring his opposition to “sacred cows” in state government and has been a strong advocate for reducing the size of government through agency consolidation. I look forward to working with Costello in the future to consolidate unnecessary overhead in state government. Without a doubt, Costello has emerged as one of the state’s leading advocate for government reform.

I am also extremely appreciative of the fact that new Oklahoma Lieutenant Governor Todd Lamb is drawing attention to the state’s need for asset management. You may recall in the past that I have described how state assets such as buildings have not even been included in a centralized inventory. Can you image what would happen to a privately owned business that could not even tell you what buildings it owned? A cursory compendium of state assets has recently been curated, and this document should provide us a start in attempting to get a handle on this huge problem.

The Lieutenant Governor’s leadership on this issue will be crucial in finding the millions of dollars of state assets that should be removed from the hands of the government and returned to the free market where they belong.

This fall, the Government Modernization committee will conduct a study led by State Representative TW Shannon to analyze the need for a much more aggressive state asset management solution.

Finally, a most dramatic transformation has occurred in the state Department of Education. You may recall from a previous article how at the end of 2010, the department refused to follow state law that required an assessment of their information technology assets. This was an important study that was necessary to determine the possible money savings from the implementation of an enterprise-wide IT consolidation plan. It was incredible that a state bureaucracy just ignored the law.

Once new Superintendent of Education Janet Barresi took office, all of this changed. The Department of Education transformed into a leader in following the IT consolidation law and actually became the first large state agency to consolidate under the state’s IT consolidation plan. The savings is expected to run as high as $600,000 each year. At a time when too many state agencies are still fighting the IT consolidation, it is very exciting to see this type of transformation occur inside a state bureaucracy. $600,000 is a lot of money and the taxpayers have been well served by this decision.

I believe these actions reflect the fact that many of Oklahoma’s newly elected officials have a real desire to reduce government spending. I am confident that most of them will remain true to this goal and that Oklahoma will be well served in the upcoming years.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Saving Money and Informing the Public

During the recently concluded legislative session, I enjoyed the opportunity to place transparency and openness proposals from newly-elected Oklahoma statewide elected officials into modernization legislation.

Under the leadership of Superintendent Janet Barresi the Department of Education requested legislation to bring transparency to the department’s conference and training processes. In the past the department had conducted conferences and training events with what appears to have been little public purview.

House Bill 1207 created a pilot program to place the expenses associated with these activities online where they can be readily accessed by anyone. The bill allows the training programs to take place in-house without the use of a third-party vendor, and requires the use of e-commerce when conducting the event, plus a report that demonstrates the amount of cost savings due to the reforms.

House Bill 1207 also addressed a request by State Auditor Gary Jones. Each year Oklahoma cities and towns hire a third party auditor to audit cities’ finances. Those audits are sent to the State Auditor where they are filed away and very unlikely to receive any oversight from the public. Jones wants to change this by placing electronic copies of the audits online for everyone to see. House Bill 1207 clears the way for electronic submission of the audits.

State Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s office requested the modernization of the process for printing Attorney General opinions. In the past, Oklahoma laws have mandated the physical publication of law books and Attorney General opinions. These publications were sent to the Oklahoma Department of Libraries where they were forwarded to the other 50 states. In exchange, the other states sent their legal publications to the Oklahoma Department of Libraries.

Over the years, this process has become unnecessary as the various states and Oklahoma have placed their legal materials online. However, the law still mandated the transfer of printed information. The cost for printing thousands of pages of unnecessary legal publications was huge.

I have sponsored legislation with Senator Patrick Anderson in the past that eliminated the requirement for Oklahoma to send statute books to other states. This year, House Bill 1086 also removed the requirement to print the Attorney General’s opinion book to send to the other states.

Next week I will write about the efforts of some of Oklahoma’s other statewide elected officials to reform state government.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Modernizing the State Treasurer's Office

This year I enjoyed the opportunity to work with several of Oklahoma's new statewide elected officials in their efforts to modernize state government. I served as the House author for modernization legislation on behalf of State Treasurer Ken Miller, State Auditor Gary Jones, Attorney General Scott Pruitt and State Superintendent Janet Barresi.

When State Treasurer Ken Miller took office, he commissioned his staff with the responsibility of finding inefficiencies and drafting proposed updates of state law when necessary to address those inefficiencies.

Miller’s modernization proposal was sponsored in the form of Senate Bill 571. The bill was authored by Senator Clark Jolley in the Senate and I carried the bill in the House.

Senate Bill 571 targeted several areas. The bill updated procedures for the liquidation of properties deposited into the state’s unclaimed property fund. In the past, state officials had to engage in antiquated and duplicative procedures that added unnecessary cost and had to eventually be paid by those who owned the property. Miller’s bill streamlined those unnecessary process procedures so that the unnecessary cost was not passed on to property owners.

Miller also noted that the state had thousands of dollars remaining in an old account that had been used to pay claims from a 2004-era tax refund program. The fund had not experienced a claim for several years but the funds were tied down awaiting claims that were obviously never going to be filed. SB 571 closed down this unnecessary fund.

SB 571 also put an end to redundant reporting processes that interfered with each other because they used the same data but had to be filed at two different times. SB 571 synchronized the filing process so that the reports could be filed using the same data sets.

These provisions of SB 571 probably won’t receive any attention from the media. Very few citizens realized any of these issues even existed. But that bill will save taxpayer money and resources that otherwise would have been wasted. I especially appreciate Treasurer Miller’s commitment to doing the right thing and modernizing government process even when no one was paying attention. I believe that speaks to his good intent and am happy to have been able to assist Miller and Senator Jolley in doing the right thing for state taxpayers.

Next week I intend to write about some of the other modernization initiatives requested by other state officials.