Lawmakers look at state GAO

Thursday, September 21st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- The state Health Department scandal has resurrected a proposal to create a state general accounting office to monitor the performance of state agencies.

House Speaker Loyd Benson, D-Frederick, told the House Rules Committee Wednesday that the House fiscal staff had recommended creating such an office. The idea re-emerged because of the scandal involving the Health Department and nursing homes.

State and federal investigations are under way into alleged wrongdoing within the Health Department.

Oklahoma's multicounty grand jury is investigating "ghost"

employees at the department. A separate federal investigation is looking at corruption within the department in the regulation of nursing homes.

Benson said the Legislature has the job of overseeing state agencies but that a general accounting office would perform independent reviews and help the Legislature do its job.

With term limits scheduled to kick in four years, the House could lose as many as 60 to 70 of its members and deprive the Legislature of the "institutional memory" it uses to gauge the effectiveness of state programs over the years.

Benson said the House has had limited success in examining state agencies through zero-based budgeting. Under the process agencies are required to explain their annual budgets much more thoroughly to subcommittees.

But the Senate has not agreed with zero-based budgets, and lawmakers have only a limited time to examine budgets during the four-month annual session.

During budget hearings, "rarely do you have an agency head tell you to downsize a program," Benson added.

Benson said a state general accounting office would examine agencies' management policies and would be more subjective in its assessments.

He said any new office would have to be structured in such a way as to not duplicate the efforts of the State Auditor and Inspector's Office, which also examines agency budgets and finances.

"One of the objections to this whole concept was setting up another agency and the cost of doing so," Benson said. "You can't create an agency that is going to cost millions of dollars in order to create accountability."

Rep. Russ Roach, D-Tulsa, the chairman of the committee, said state agencies could pay for the office from their own budgets to save money.