OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – Building off of greater oversight and transparency initiatives by the House over the past three years, House Speaker Charles McCall has launched a new initiative to increase legislative oversight and assess the performance of agency governing boards.
“The Legislature has been too deferential and hands-off with these governing boards for most of state history, and the House is going to change that,” said McCall, Atoka-22 (R).
Speaker McCall is assigning House committees to regularly monitor the governing boards of more than three dozen state agencies and identify legislators to attend governing board meetings as necessary – including attendance at private executive sessions as authorized by state law – so legislators can be better informed and increase their watchdog role over agencies.
Additional government oversight by the House began in 2016, when the House launched more robust budget hearings for the largest state agencies. In 2017 and 2018, the House exposed waste and mismanagement at agencies through agency accountability hearings. In 2019, the Legislature created the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency, which next year will start providing legislators with independent budget information and agency performance reviews.
“Citizens want more oversight of government, and we are continuing to deliver it,” McCall said. “The House is continuing to build on the oversight efforts we have made in the past three years. This time, we are rolling up our sleeves, getting out of the Capitol and visiting agency governing boards ourselves to inform our policymaking. This work will occur year-round – regardless of whether the Legislature is in session.”
The initiative has five goals:
- Improve legislator understanding of agency governance and operations
- Assess each board’s oversight efforts and the effectiveness of the agency
- Monitor whether state appropriations are being used as intended and if adequate consideration is being given to potential liabilities attached to federal or other grants agencies may pursue
- Ensure enactment of new and existing laws, including rulemaking, is consistent with legislative intent and facilitates effective service delivery to the public
- Determine if executive sessions closed to the public are being used properly
“Oklahomans elected a record number of new legislators to bring real change to government, and this increased oversight is one way we will fulfill that voter mandate,” McCall said. “Between this House initiative, the creation of the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency last session, and the fresh eyes the Stitt administration is bringing to the executive branch, it is very much a new day of accountability in state government.”
Oklahoma has nearly 200 boards and commissions overseeing state agencies. Many have existed for decades, or even since statehood.
“Quality Oklahomans serve on several of these boards, including many appointed by the legislative branch, but we as elected state representatives need to do more to monitor what these boards are doing or not doing. It is our constitutional duty,” McCall said.
A preliminary list of 40 boards that will be monitored and the committees assigned to them can be found here. Additional boards may be added in the future as warranted.
“The reality is there may need to be some wholesale restructuring of agency governance models in order to truly optimize government and improve service delivery for citizens. This effort will help sort out when and where that approach may be necessary,” McCall said.
McCall said the initiative complements efforts the governor’s administration is making to more proactively manage state agencies.
“Governor Kevin Stitt is doing a tremendous job providing stronger oversight of agency operations from the executive branch, and we are joining him in that effort from the legislative branch,” McCall said. “The direct hire and fire ability the Legislature recently granted the governor over some agency leaders, and the rebalancing of at-will board appointments, is already resulting in profound, positive culture change at state agencies. Oklahoma needs to build on this progress by placing additional agencies under similar structures.”
McCall added: “House members will not be attending these meetings as participants or to direct these entities. We will be there to observe and use information gleaned to improve our policymaking while ensuring agencies are giving taxpayers the best return on their investment. It will also heighten our ability to respond to constituent inquiries about agencies and services.”
Since its enactment in 1977, the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act has contained a provision authorizing legislators to attend private, executive sessions of governing body meetings, but the provision has rarely been invoked.
“This is an important oversight component of the Open Meeting Act that we intend to start use,” McCall said. “There are legitimate reasons for executive sessions, but when they are used for the wrong reasons, it is to the detriment of Oklahoma citizens.”
Guidelines will be put in place to ensure confidentiality of executive sessions is maintained when a House member attends.
“House members will not be able to publicly share information discussed in those sessions if it is confidential information. However, if a representative observes something truly egregious, we will not hesitate to exercise our constitutional authority and independence as the situation warrants,” McCall said.
Some House members have already started attending governing board meetings – including executive sessions.
Rep. Sheila Dills, Jenks-69 (R) , attended a Board of Education meeting and executive session in July. Reps. Toni Hasenbeck, Elgin-65 (R), and Mark McBride, Moore-53 (R), attended a University of Oklahoma Board of Regents meeting in September, and plan to attend meetings of other university governing boards in the future.
“The House members already attending these meetings have been warmly welcomed by the board members and agency staff, and we expect that will continue,” McCall said. “Ultimately, we see this as a partnership to foster better communication and cooperation between elected officials and agencies that results in a more functional government for Oklahomans.”