Monday, May 26, 2008

Weekly Opinion/Editorial
By Steve Fair
Before the Oklahoma legislature adjorned last week, they passed Senate Bill #1865 which would create a state Office of Accountability and Innovation within the Legislative Service Bureau. It is intended to make government more efficient by creating an agency to conduct regular performance audits of state agencies. The Senate author is co-Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee, R, Oklahoma City. The House author is Speaker of the House Chris Benge, R, Tulsa.

After the Senate passed the measure 32 to 15 last week Coffee said “Republicans are strongly committed to making government more accountable, more effective and more innovative,” stated Coffee, R-Oklahoma City. “The Office of Accountability and Innovation will give the Legislature the tools to help state government better serve the people of Oklahoma. One can look at success of the recent performance audit of the Department of Corrections as an example of the honest assessments and innovative recommendations we expect to receive from the legislative Office of Accountability and Innovation.”

According to Coffee, the new agency will conduct regular performance audits of agencies, recommend best procedures to improve government efficiency, review tax policy and suggest new ways to make government more accountable and effective. The legislation creates a Joint Committee on Accountability and Innovation that will consist of five House members and five Senate members. The committee will appoint a director of the office of accountability to serve a four-year term. The bill is on the way to the governor's desk where Governor Henry is expected to sign it. While accountability is a good thing, creating another state agency is not.
If the description of the duties and responsibilitites for this new agency seem familiar, it’s because they are very similar to the job description for the Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector.

In Article VI, Section 19 of the Oklahoma Constitution the Auditor and Inspector is charged with examining the state and all county treasurers’ books, accounts and cash on hand or in bank at least twice each year. The Auditor and Inspector is to provide checks and balances within the Executive Department of Oklahoma State government.

The State Auditor and Inspector has access to all books, accounts, reports, vouchers and other records of information in any department, institution or agency. Pursuant to various statutes the State Auditor and Inspector establishes accounting procedures, and forms, and provides assistance to counties and other forms of local government. The State Auditor and Inspector also performs special investigative audits upon request by certain state officials and upon petition by citizens.

Why do we need an additional oversight agency controlled by ten state legislators when we already have an elective office created by the Oklahoma Constitution charged with doing much of what the new agency will be doing? I fail to see how creating a new agency will make Oklahoma government more efficient.

Proponents of the new agency point out the new agency will do performance audits. What are performance audits? A performance audit refers to an examination of a program, function, managment of or the procedures of a state agency. Most “performance audits” are carried out by exernal auditors, but in most states they are done by elected officials like the State Auditor. Performance audits are objective and systematic, generally using structured and professionally adopted crititerium. But in reality, the State Auditor’s office has the constitutional authority to do “performance audits” now.

The creation of this new agency is partially in reaction to current State Auditor Jeff McMahon being indicted in January on conspiracy, fraud and racketeering charges. It’s clear by the bi-partisan vote on SB 1865 the legislature doesn’t have any confidence in the State Auditor’s office to do performance audits. Another factor is that Republicans want an agency to conduct ongoing studies on improving Oklahoma’s taxation system. By doing so, perhaps we could make the state more attractive to business looking to expand or relocate. But creating a state agency because an elected official fails to do their job is not a good reason to create another layer of bureaucracy. Growing government is not an innovation. That’s the problem with government- it’s too big now. We didn’t need another state agency to watch the other state agency who is watching the other state agencies.

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