Democrat calls for state-level GAO office, cabinet reform to curb

Monday, July 31st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- A Democratic state representative says reforming the governor's cabinet and creating an office that watches how state dollars are spent would help avoid future scandals like the one involving the state Health Department.

Rep. Russ Roach, D-Tulsa, asked Monday that an interim study be conducted on the creation of an office similar to the federal General Accounting Office. He claimed it would protect taxpayers and better investigate allegations of mismanagement or waste against state agencies.

But the state auditor is already charged with that duty, said Mike Brake, a spokesman for Gov. Frank Keating. "We see no reason to create another state agency to do a job
already being done," Brake said.

Roach said such an office would have helped officials earlier detect the alleged problems at the state Health Department, which include bribery and dozens of "ghost employees" who reportedly had positions in the Health Department but did little or no work. "I think one of the things that would have been nice was to have a group that has the investigative ability and experience so that when complaints and tips are received, there's an independent agency that those referrals can be turned over to," Roach said.

Roach asked House Speaker Loyd Benson, D-Frederick, to form two House subcommittees. One would look into how the proposed
investigative office could be funded, the staffing it would need and how it would relate to the state auditor's office.

He said another subcommittee would examine the executive cabinet, which Roach said helped spawn the lack of accountability many blame for the scandal at the state Health Department.

"The secretary of health, for example, does not hire the director. There is a separate board that hires and supervises the
director. So there's no direct relationship there," Roach said.

Roach also said changes are needed in the state education secretary position because the position has no direct connection to the operation of the state Education Department. The state school superintendent supervises that department.

"That is not any one person's fault but it's obvious we need to rethink this cabinet situation and have one that works," Roach

Brake called Roach's efforts "the same old story of Democrats trying to neuter the governor's cabinet." He blamed the lack of
accountability at state agencies on the diluted executive authority in the Oklahoma system.

"The problem with the state Health Department stems from decades of legislative meddling," Brake said. "If the governor
had control over these state agencies we wouldn't have these problems.