Monday, January 31, 2011

State Board of Education Members Should Resign

State officials are preparing to conclude an extensive study of the state’s segmented and costly information technology systems. As part of this study, officials are required to review state technology assets and assemble a report which demonstrates how many millions of dollars will be saved if the state adopts an enterprise-wide IT plan.

This research has already exposed many duplicative processes that are absolutely wasting taxpayer dollars.The study is expected to be released in the next few weeks and will serve as a road map to legislation this year. Since the legislative session is just starting to get underway, this has obviously created a tight time line which was made even tighter when the Department of Education refused to cooperate with the study. In fact, the Department wouldn’t allow state officials to conduct the study even though it is mandated by law.

Fortunately, with the arrival of new State Superintendent Janet Barresi, the Department has finally started to comply with the law and allow this important work to be accomplished. Her arrival is a breath of much needed fresh air.

It was not at all a pleasant experience to listen to the audio from Janet Barresi’s first Department of Education board meeting and to hear how disrespectfully she was treated by the extremely partisan board appointees of the previous Governor. I have never heard a board chairman treated with such disrespect. As a legislative committee chairman, I know first hand that the board must respect the chairman’s authority if the meeting is going to run efficiently. From the start, not only was Barresi not afforded this respect, but her ability to run the meeting was obviously taken away from her with great malice.

Barresi is taking on one of the most difficult challenges that any Oklahoma office holder has ever encountered. Reforming the Oklahoma common education monster and the State Department of Education is a herculean task and Barresi must be able to appoint a team of professionals to assist her. The board obviously knows this and refused to confirm the appointment of three of Barresi’s assistants despite the fact that they are well qualified for their respective jobs. I know this first hand because I have directly worked with two of the three assistants.This includes the former Deputy Commissioner for Insurance Commissioner Kim Holland and the former press secretary for the House of Representatives. They are both well qualified.

The low point of the meeting occurred when a board member made a now well-publicized and extremely inappropriate and derogatory comment about another former co-worker of mine who recently left her job with us so she could assist Barresi at the Department. I was sorry to see her go as she is one of the nicest people you could ever meet and was set to be the lead Government Modernization staffer for the House during the upcoming session. It is unbelievable that this qualified professional is being treated in a most demeaning way simply because she chose to work for someone who wants to reform Oklahoma’s common education system. There should be no place in state government where it is acceptable to treat someone in this manner.

You may visit to listen to the audio recordings from the board meeting. You will be shocked to learn that the individuals who are behaving so badly have held unchecked power over common education in Oklahoma. This type of behavior would be deemed unacceptable if expressed by a student on any given school playground in Oklahoma.

The people of Oklahoma have spoken in support of Superintendent Barresi and education reform. It is obvious to me that the current board members are opposed to reform and intend to block Barresi at every turn. They do not represent the views of Oklahomans and they should immediately resign. If not, they risk being noted in history as the last desperate attempt to preserve an indefensible system of failure that has greatly harmed the future of so many Oklahoma students.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Should cities publish ordinances online?

In last week’s update I described my plan to use social media as a delivery vehicle for videos of what I believe to be definitive debates in the House of Representatives. I decided to test this policy last week and sent the following message out on Twitter, Facebook and Google Chat:

“Should cities publish ordinances online? 2010 House debate: Video: Bill: Vote:”

Senate Bill 1863 proposed to require towns to place their city ordinances online for all to see.

One of the reasons elected officials are able to inappropriately govern their citizenry is because of their constant access to important governing documents. Whether it be the city code, zoning documents or budget documents, the possession of this data results in the governing having the knowledge of the details of the very complex governing process, while the governed have to figure out how to find copies of these documents. Some individuals may not know how to easily find and research these forms and must take the word of those in power without verification. The web changes all this. No longer is City Hall empowered to keep data at the expense of the populace -- the governing documents are placed online for all to see.

As a Guthrie City Councilman, one of my priorities was to secure passage of a resolution calling for the placement of the city code online. Today, Guthrie citizens can review these laws by visiting Once landing on the site, visitors are one click away from pulling up the code (click on the “I Want To” link). In addition to enhancing transparency, this service provides assistance to city employees because they no longer have to respond to as many open records requests for city documents. In short, I believe this transparency provides a net cost savings to the taxpayer.

Because of this experience, I am well aware that placing ordinances online is not a complicated or expensive process. Senate Bill 1863 required a minimal commitment by city officials to simply post a link to the file provided by the company responsible for compiling the latest version of the city code.

Senate Bill 1863 came to the House after being unanimously approved in the Senate. There was little reason to think there would be any opposition to this legislation.

The bill was presented to the House by State Representative Scott Martin. As a former Norman City official, Martin knows first hand how easy it would be for cities to post the information and how important it is for city government to be transparent.

You can imagine our surprise when the bill came under heavy attack for allegedly placing an “undue burden” on city officials. The bill was defeated by a significant margin as defenders of the status quo resorted to some of the most remarkable arguments in an effort to keep cities from having to post their laws.

I believe this was one of the defining debates of the year in that it clearly distinguished those Representatives who truly understand and believe in the importance of using technology to provide transparency and empower the citizens.

But the good part is that you don’t have to take my word for any of this. Decide for yourself! In less than 140 characters, readers can watch the web cast of the debate, read the bill and see who voted for this important transparency proposal. These links give you the ability to make informed decisions on the issues.

I look forward to utilizing social media services to provide future updates like this one during the upcoming session.

I am on Facebook at and

Monday, January 17, 2011

New Social Media Strategy for 2011 Session

During the past few weeks I have been giving some thought about how to use social media to provide a higher level of service to House District 31 constituents.

The use of social media has provided me with the obvious benefit of being able to communicate with a number of constituents and hear ideas to which I would not otherwise be exposed. This has been a resource which has made the commitment to social media more than worth the time and effort.

In early October, I wrote an update about another benefit afforded by these services. In that article I described my view that Twitter provided a delivery mechanism for the real-time distribution of documents and items which are of interest but which would not otherwise receive general circulation.

For instance, the Government Modernization Committee recently held a hearing where we studied the possibility of consolidating state government agencies. Following that study, Twitter, Facebook and Google Docs provided the means to deliver access to the documents which were referenced as part of the study. Constituents did not just have to take my word for the material the committee considered, but could see for themselves the content we studied -- and they could then make up their own minds about the veracity of the content. One reader asked to view the 1995 Keating-era report (you can still see it at

During the next session I intend to use social media services to deliver additional services to constituents, including the opportunity to view the most interesting House floor proceedings.

Last year, video of House proceedings was made available on the internet. This was one of the most important transparency reforms made by House leaders, and the public can now see House debates for themselves. While the right of the citizens to see these proceedings is important, I certainly understand that few have the time to set aside to watch these proceedings for an extended period of time. Besides, most of the happenings are fairly routine and don’t provide the viewer much incentive to stay tuned.

The fact that few have the resources and time to filter through the routine and uninteresting in order to see the important items should not be a barrier to access. Defining debates do occur, and all citizens should observe those debates in their proper context.

Fortunately, each of these debates is indexed with its own unique link on the website. This useful feature allows viewers to visit the specific debate in which they are interested without having to filter other content.

As I observe interesting debates this year, I plan to use Twitter and Facebook to distribute the links. I also plan to include these links in future articles when discussing the specific issues, so my email update recipients can see the debates for themselves. This way, they won’t have to take my word for what happened, but can view the debates and make up their own minds.

My challenge will be to select those debates which I feel will justify social media alerts. I don’t want to send out too many alerts and risk disincentivizing the viewer from clicking on the link. It will be my goal to send links only to those defining debates which you feel will justify your time and attention. I hope you will consider visiting some of these links and sending me your feedback throughout session.

I would also appreciate your suggestions about other ways I can use these services during the upcoming session. On Twitter I am @JWMurphey and you can also locate me at

Monday, January 10, 2011

Agency Consolidation

Last month, the Government Modernization Committee conducted an interim study to analyze the possible benefits of consolidating some of Oklahoma’s central service agencies. Central service agencies are the state agencies which provide services to other Oklahoma state agencies.

These agencies include:

The Department of Central Services (DCS) provides state agencies with purchasing assistance, fleet management, facilities management and printing services.

The Office of State Finance (OSF) accommodates the needs of agencies through the provisioning of shared financial, information technology and human resource services, including the hosting, development and support of the state’s enterprise software systems.

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) provides agencies with shared human resource and financial services.

The Employees Benefits Council (EBC) manages Oklahoma’s state employee benefits on behalf of state agencies.

The Merit Protection Commission assists agencies and state employees with human resource issues.

The Oklahoma State Employee Education and Group Insurance Board (OSEEGIB) manages the state’s self-funded preferred provider organization insurance plan on behalf of state, education and local government employees.

The Archives and Records Commission and the Department of Libraries are responsible for the proper disposition of state agency records.

Consolidating some or all of these agencies would present state policy leaders with the opportunity to realize greater efficiency and cost savings through the streamlining of services.

Currently, state employees must access multiple bureaucracies in order to take advantage of a state shared service. For instance, when a state purchasing officer wishes to order a technology item, he/she must receive approval or assistance from both the Office of State Finance and the Department of Central Services. A consolidated central services agency would mean that procurement officers would only be required to deal with one other bureaucracy.

In some cases, it may be hard for a state agency director to decide which shared service to use. For instance, the Office of Personnel Management and the Office of State Finance provide almost identical shared financial services -- and agencies are then forced to choose which agency to use. This is not an easy task because there does not appear to be a set of performance metrics by which state agencies can gauge which of the central services agencies provides the most efficient shared service.

Clearly there is room for improvement when state employees are required to deal with multiple state bureaucracies in order to accomplish a single necessary task. We should all be able to agree that it is not a best governance practice for Oklahoma’s central service agencies to provide duplicative services to state agencies. Certainly this level of red tape slows down the ability of the state employee to quickly provide services to Oklahoma taxpayers.

A major benefit from consolidating shared services agencies would be the huge savings from the reduction of overhead and administrative costs. Our study detailed a possible savings of $10 M per year if the consolidation resulted in a reduction of just 20% of appropriated dollars.

It is my belief that this proposed plan for consolidation will receive serious consideration from the Oklahoma Legislature during the upcoming legislative session.

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.