This afternoon at 3:00 marked the first meeting of Governor Henry’s coordinating council to oversee the use of the federal stimulus money available to Oklahoma through ARRA. All of the members of the council were in attendance for this inaugural meeting. Susan Savage will serve as the lead contact for the council. Scott Meachem will work on all aspects of the stimulus package as they relate to the state budget and will work on a daily basis to coordinate with the legislature. Steve Burrage will be the “monitoring guru”.
Governor Henry stated that the goal of the council is to make sure Oklahoma doesn’t fall into any traps and that we get the full benefit of the stimulus funds. He stressed that, although openness and accountability is a key goal of this process, it goes beyond that. The other stated goal is to identify all opportunities where Oklahoma can benefit from the stimulus package.
The governor stressed that, “If there is money available that will be beneficial for the state, I want to take advantage of it. So far, I have not seen any of the stimulus money that is available that would not be beneficial to Oklahoma, for whatever reason.” He expressed that he wants Oklahoma to be the role model for how the ARRA will be implemented by having full disclosure in the process, with every dime of the stimulus money being listed on the website to show where it went and how it was spent.
Susan Savage and Steve Burrage just returned today from a meeting at the White House yesterday. Vice President Biden was quoted from the meeting as saying “All that is legal is not acceptable in this process.” All but one of the states were represented at the meeting. Secretary Savage reported that many of the states expressed a desire to see a change in the compliance structure of the bill, which is loaded at the back end with money to determine if there was compliance. She felt that the administration heard the concerns of the states and will be making money available up front to ensure compliance.
To that end, Steve Burrage expressed his intent to consider all funds as high risk funds under auditing standards, which puts in place heightened control requirements. The federal government wants the money spent quickly, productively, and in a manner free from fraud and waste. These are hard things to ensure all at once. In fact, 16 states have federal auditors arriving soon to facilitate the process. Oklahoma is not one of those states. Steve Burrage, Oklahoma’s State Auditor, urged all agencies to go in and do an assessment of their control procedures and requirements – basically an operational audit. He stressed “document, document, document.” There will be “real time audit procedures” that will allow Oklahoma to find waste on the front end instead of on the back. Lisa Hodges and Josh Richards will be coordinating parts of the process for the Oklahoma Auditor’s Office.
Governor Henry enthusiastically declared that this coordinating council will set Oklahoma apart and make us the best in the nation at this process. He gave all the members of the council a charge before they convene again a week from Tuesday (March 24th). At that meeting, each member will present a written report that outlines the concerns and opportunities that they and their work groups have identified regarding this process.