Oklahoma's Stimulus Watchdog - Keeping Track of Every Penny

Thursday, September 24th 2009, 11:02 pm
By: News On 6

By Amy Lester, Oklahoma Impact Team

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK -- One man has the tough job of tracking the state's stimulus dollars. Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry gave State Auditor and Inspector Steve Burrage that task earlier this year.

Steve Burrage "will provide Oklahomans with the watchdog they need to ensure funds are used in the most efficient and effective manner possible," said Governor Henry.

Burrage takes his job very seriously. He normally audits about $7 billion federal dollars that go to state agencies every year. The stimulus adds another $2.6 billion to the pot.

"I've told everybody to know where the money came from, know where you spent it and why you spent it and document, document, document," said Burrage.

Burrage has a team of auditors and supervisors keeping track of the money. Some are doing real time audits, watching every penny as it's spent. Others will audit agencies after the money's shelled out.

"I have no doubt in my mind that there will be waste, fraud or abuse," said Burrage.

Burrage spends a lot of his time educating state agencies about the stimulus. He wants to ensure the proper internal procedures are set up to catch any abuse.

"We're doing everything we can," said Burrage.

It's not an easy job, but, Burrage said he believes his staff is ready.

"What you want to have is a system set up so that if somebody can't just put their hand on the till and misappropriate money," said Tom Daxon, former State Auditor and Inspector.

Daxon walked in Burrage's shoes as State Auditor. Elected in 1978, he served one term. Daxon said the auditor is the best person to safeguard stimulus dollars.

"To have someone who is accountable to us as taxpayers and as citizens is very important and that's who the state auditor represents are the taxpayers," Daxon said.

As it stands, Burrage will have to follow the extra money without additional staff. He's waiting on Congress to pass a bill that would allow him to use stimulus dollars to hire more people.

Burrage isn't the only auditor's office involved with the stimulus. That's because he does not have jurisdiction over several agencies. The Department of Commerce, community action agencies, school districts, the water resources board, cities and towns and conservation districts will rely on independent auditors. Burrage will examine the finished audit but, cannot do the original one himself.

"I worry about money that's going to entities that we don't audit. I'm worried about money going to entities that have never been subject to the auditing standards required by the federal government," said Burrage.

The auditor is asking all Oklahomans to be on the lookout for anyone misusing stimulus dollars.

Check out the state auditor's web site

"They want the public to report any instance that they see of waste, fraud and abuse, or even if they think there's waste, fraud and abuse," said Burrage.

If you would like to report waste, fraud or abuse, call the state's hotline, 1-877-259-7337