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Oklahoma governor's consolidation plan warrants careful review

by The Oklahoman Editorial Board Published: February 14, 2014

GOV. Mary Fallin has called for consolidating five state agencies to reduce state expenses. The responses of affected agency personnel include both serious critiques and comments seemingly aimed only at protecting turf.

The governor has called for consolidating the Oklahoma Arts Council, J.M. Davis Memorial Commission, Oklahoma Historical Society, Will Rogers Memorial Commission and Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission into the Tourism Department. She estimates those changes would reduce associated expenses by 15 percent.

In theory, consolidation usually makes sense. Multiple stand-alone agencies with similar missions ultimately involve duplication, particularly in administration. But consolidation doesn’t always generate the savings envisioned.

When lawmakers voted to consolidate management of state government information technology under the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, proponents thought it would streamline administration and reduce costs. Instead, some smaller agencies saw their IT expenses increase. At larger agencies, the main impact was that IT staffers who previously were department employees instead became employees of OMES. But their offices remained in the same place.

Those larger agencies now pay OMES for IT services the agencies previously controlled directly. Some duplication may have been eliminated, but an additional layer of bureaucracy is now embedded in state government. The verdict is still out on whether this effort truly generated a taxpayer benefit.

Fallin deserves credit for seeking administrative savings in state government, but lawmakers should carefully vet this issue. Ed Fite, administrator of the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission, raises some legitimate concerns. Noting that his commission handles environmental regulations, Fite argues that it’s a poor fit for tourism and would be better placed with an environmental agency. That’s a valid point — although it could be addressed with only a minor tweak to Fallin’s plan.

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by The Oklahoman Editorial Board
The Oklahoman Editorial Board consists of Gary Pierson, President and CEO of The Oklahoma Publishing Company; Christopher P. Reen, president and publisher of The Oklahoman; Kelly Dyer Fry, editor and vice president of news; Christy Gaylord...
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