Does Oklahoma Have Too Many State Agencies?

Tuesday, November 23rd 2010, 7:19 pm
By: News On 6

By Amy Lester, Oklahoma Impact Team

OKLAHOMA CITY - Nearly 200 agencies operate in Oklahoma using state dollars. If you count all of the boards, agencies and commissions, that number jumps to 616.

"We have too many state agencies, we need to cut and consolidate and get rid of a lot of the bureaucracies and a lot of the administration that goes into those," said Representative David Dank, (R) Oklahoma City.

Dank is pushing for a thorough examination of every state agency. He wants them to justify their budgets and existence. He questions agencies that duplicate services or ones that he says are not necessary.

"That needs to go immediately," said Dank.

Dank is talking about the Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority. The agency is getting $424,289 from the state this year. Executive Director Bill Khourie's salary is $86,005. Dank believes the agency should shut down.

"We have prepared ourselves and we have built the foundation for it, so to abandon it now doesn't make any sense," said Khourie.

Khourie oversees the airport and spaceport near Burns Flat. It's licensed for space vehicles to take off or land horizontally. You may remember a company called Rocketplane that got an $18 million tax credit to launch its space tourism operation there and take the public to space. That company's now bankrupt and long gone.

"We don't have an operator that's based here right now, we have some people who are looking at the facility for various types of applications," said Khourie.

He's confident space flights from Burns Flat will happen.

"If we had space tourism flights that originated here, people would be coming to Oklahoma from all over the world to be able to participate in these flights," said Khourie. "There's limitless things that this offers as far as research, development, transportation, it's just incredible and we are the facility that can host those operations."

Khourie's three mile long, 300 foot wide runway is not the only place being questioned.

Last session, Governor Brad Henry suggested consolidating several state agencies to save money. The legislature never picked up on the idea so, it went nowhere. The Space Industry Development Authority was on the proposed list along with two museums in Claremore.

The Will Rogers Memorial Museums are one state agency with an appropriation of $744,984 for this year. The director will make $80,508. The J.M. Davis Arms and Historical Museum is also its own state agency, set to receive $306,677 this year. $54,000 is for the executive director.

The heads of both facilities support the current set up as separate agencies.

"I like that because we have more local control over our museum," said Wayne McCombs, Executive Director of the J.M. Davis Arms and Historical Museum. "We can get things done a little bit quicker here, a little bit faster than if we had our headquarters in Oklahoma City."

"I think it's important that we stand alone," said Steve Gragert, Director of Will Rogers Memorial Museums. "We believe that it's necessary to have a staff that is focused on Will Rogers, entirely focused on Will Rogers to understand the man."

Governor Henry suggested consolidating them with the Historical Society which operates most state museums, with far less funding per site.

Click here to see funding for the Historical Society's museums

"I think it's a good question, whether we have too many state agencies, I tend to think we do," said Governor Henry. "There are many duplicate services being performed and if we brought them under one tent so to speak we could save administrative costs but, we could also operate more efficiently."

See the suggested consolidations | Read Governor Henry's entire executive budget

We showed the full list of agencies and appropriations to an independent business consultant, to get his take.

"I was surprised to see the sheer number of them," said David Tinker, Bottom Line Solutions.

See the full list of agencies and appropriations

Not only did the number of agencies surprise Tinker, he also didn't expect to see so much spending.

"The size of spending is just shocking to me," said Tinker. "When I look at the expenditures, I think, do they even have the mentality to look for cost savings."

Tinker says there's no question agencies need to consolidate and the state should make sure every agency is providing a needed service.

"For the good of our state, for the state to continue to be able to provide the necessary goods and services that they need to provide, we've got to take a look at some of these measures and do some things that are not, they're not pleasant, they're not comfortable for anybody but they are highly necessary," said Tinker.

What will happen during the next legislative session? We asked Governor-elect Mary Fallin what she thinks about consolidating state agencies. She gave us this statement.

"Throughout the campaign, I pledged to "right size" government, eliminate waste and make government more efficient and effective. Over the next few weeks, I will be appointing a governor's task force to pinpoint how we can accomplish these goals. Oklahoma has more than 500 state agencies, boards and commissions and we will have another budget shortfall this coming year. Therefore, it's imperative to make government efficiency a priority." - Governor-elect Mary Fallin

We also asked House and Senate leadership their opinions. They issued the following statements.

"We will work hard to save taxpayers' money and make government run more efficiently," said President Pro Tempore Designate Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa.  "In areas where there is duplication of services consolidation will be considered. Just as families and small businesses have had to scrutinize their budgets, so will we to ensure that Oklahoman's receive the best possible return on their money."

"In light of the significant budget challenges facing the state this year, House lawmakers will be actively working to streamline state government and make limited tax dollars go further," said House Speaker Elect Kris Steele, R-Shawnee.  "That effort will include a careful review of state agencies, boards and commissions. Where we find needless duplication or outdated processes, we will seek to combine those entities and free up money for more important needs, such as schools, roads, public safety and health care."

Join Amy Lester in a live chat on Wednesday, November 24, 2010 at noon.