Gov. Fallin’s transformation of OMES resembles Gov. Stitt’s plan for other state agencies (Capitol Update)

It came to light recently that the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) is out of money and needs an emergency $16 million to avoid furloughing employees. Obviously, this isn’t going down well with legislators who just went through the same thing in 2017 with the Oklahoma State Department of Health only to later learn that the shortfall wasn’t really a shortfall. Senate Appropriations Chairman Roger Thompson has filed a bill splitting out the information technology functions of the agency.

Interestingly OMES was one of the first agencies audited by the recently created Agency Performance and Accountability Commission. The Commission, composed of business leaders found that “In general, …OMES satisfactorily performs the variety of activities where Oklahoma statute grants it authority and/or responsibility. While there are a few (relatively minor) exceptions, in general, OMES satisfactorily carries out its duties and responsibilities.” Despite that, Governor Stitt has now called for another audit of the agency.

In 2011 when Governor Mary Fallin took office there was an agency called the Office of State Finance (OSF) that had existed for many years. It was the office that housed the State Comptroller and served as the governor’s budget staff. In that capacity, OSF employed budget analysts who prepared the governor’s proposed budget every year, tracked spending in state agencies, and analyzed the fiscal impact for the governor of bills as they wound their way through the Legislature. Since budget drives policy and vice versa, OSF researched legislative and gubernatorial policy proposals and provided the information for the governor to make decisions. It was basically the governor’s research and fiscal staff.

Over the 8 years of the Fallin administration, OSF largely at Gov. Fallin’s request, morphed into OMES, a giant executive agency directly under the governor’s control. It absorbed the duties of several agencies that once, as separate agencies, served as the state’s personnel management office, central purchasing office, property manager, and other functions. Government, like a private business, takes in revenue and provides a product or service. To do that it has to manage its own internal affairs. During her administration Governor Fallin consolidated these “back office” management functions into one agency, OMES.

In a sense, the “Oklahoma turn around” may have begun with OMES. I say that facetiously, but respectfully, because essentially what Governor Fallin did with the state’s “back office” management functions may now be happening under Governor Stitt with the agencies that provide goods and services to the people. Just because OMES has hit some bumps in the road does not necessarily mean the Fallin “reforms” were a bad idea. But some of them might have been. In the early Fallin years she got what she wanted under the banner of reform without much push back. The same will likely happen with Governor Stitt.


Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1990. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

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