by Steve Fair

Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector (SA&I) Cindy Byrd released the annual audit results from the Federal Single Audit this week. The audit covered 2022 expenditures. The annual audit is mandated by the feds to make sure COVID 19 Relief grant money is spent in accordance with federal regulations. This is the second year the SA&I has found questionable practices by the state in using the federal funds. In this year’s audit, Byrd found the following:
Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) did not follow the state law requiring competitive bidding for vendors. Using COVID as an excuse, the bureaucratic heavy agency waived the law and conducted what they termed, ‘rolling solicitations,’ with established vendors. Byrd says this was in clear violation of the provisions set forth in the federal grant program.
Byrd claims OMES also did a poor job verifying the work of a consulting firm hired to oversee the CARES grant process. The consultant was paid over $1 million dollars and Bryd says it’s not clear all the work the consultant claimed to have done was done. The consultant counters they did a stellar job.
Byrd alleges the State Tourism Executive Director Shelley Zumwalt husband’s software firm benefited from more than $8 million of computer work at the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. Zumwalt denied wrongdoing and welcomes an investigation. Three observations about the audit:
First, circumventing the competitive bid process is problematic. State law is clear! Oklahoma law requires competitive bidding. OMES was created in 2012 for the purpose of overseeing the state’s accounting, budgeting, capital assets management, information technology, HR, and making sure agencies follow procurement standards (competitive bidding). OMES is controlled solely by the governor. The director is appointed by the governor. OMES was created to give the governor more power. OMES has evolved into what critics of its initial creation thought it would become – an arrogant, self-important bureaucracy and an unnecessarily created extra layer of government.
What exactly is ‘rolling solicitations?’ Apparently, it is a program that favors the incumbent vendor and blocks other vendors from getting the opportunity to bid? What mental giant came up with that strategy? It clearly violates state law and the people responsible should be held accountable. Not having a competitive bid process will result in corruption and good ole boy network.
Second, state officials can’t do business with the state. Zumwalt isn’t the first (and will not be the last) elected official/appointee to see nothing wrong with doing commerce with the state, but it is clearly a conflict of interest. It doesn’t matter if the state got a fair deal in the transaction, it shouldn’t happen. If a person has to make a buck off taxpayers, don’t work for the state. It’s that simple!
Third, government is not a private business. Government should be businesslike, but rules that apply to government aren’t always applicable to business. A private business can award contracts to a vendor without doing competitive bidding. They can do business with their friends and willingly pay a higher price for goods and services. They are accountable only to ownership. Government is accountable to voters/citizens. That requires transparency, a deliberate, intentional and often tedious process. A competitive bid process can be viewed as inefficient, cumbersome and time consuming. That is when geniuses come up with programs like, ‘rolling solicitation,’ to bypass state law. If an elected official or appointed bureaucrat can’t follow those pesky, annoying state laws, then they shouldn’t run for office or accept an appointment to work in government. It’s too restrictive and cumbersome for their superior intellect. They should stick to the private sector.
The elected official serving as SA&I is Oklahoma’s watchdog. They are directly elected by the people. In the past 15 years, the state legislature has done everything possible to diminish the authority and bypass the office instead of partnering with the SA&I. It’s time for that to change and while they are at it to dismantle OMES.
Steve Fair is Vice Chairman of the 4th district of Republican Party of Oklahoma. He can be reached by email at steve.fair@ymail.com. His blog is stevefair.blogspot.com.