Capitol Insider: Special Investigation Committee Chair On State Financial Mismanagement
State Rep. Josh Cockroft says he was surprised at the lack of financial oversight in agencies like the Oklahoma State Department of Health.
In an interview with Capitol Insider’s Dick Pryor and Shawn Ashley, Cockroft, who is chairing a special investigative committee looking into the health department, said the committee has received more than 60 tips about mismanagement across multiple state agencies.
“It's concerning. You would never run a business like that,” Cockroft said.
Since November, the committee has been looking into the role of Department of Health officials in the apparent mismanagement of at least $30 million dollars.
Cockroft, R-Tecumseh, says the investigation is expanding quickly.
“That's from not only concerned individuals across the state, but state employees with positions where they feel like some of this information needs to get out without retribution against them.” Cockroft said.
Over the course of the hearings, numerous state officials have testified, including the agency’s chief financial officer, former chief operating officer and interim commissioner. The committee has also interviewed the state auditor, the acting director of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services and Gov. Mary Fallin’s chief of staff.
Two other investigations into the financial mismanagement are ongoing, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and a separate effort by the state attorney general. A grand jury has heard from many of the same officials who testified before the House committee, opening up the possibility of criminal charges.
The House special investigation committee will expand its efforts to include the state Office of Tourism and the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.
Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your inside look at Oklahoma politics and policy. I'm Dick Prior with eCapitol news director Shawn Ashley, and our guest is Republican State Rep. Josh Cockroft of Wanette, who represents Cleveland and Pottawattamie Counties. Welcome.
Rep. Josh Cockroft: Thank you for having me.
Shawn Ashley: Representative, you're leading a special investigation into the State Department of Health, which wound up $30 million short in its budget this year and saw a series of resignations, including that of Commissioner of Health Terry Cline. What's the status of that investigation now?
Cockroft: Well, it's currently ongoing. We've held over the last several weeks, and honestly months, several hearings before the House of Representatives where we've brought in individuals that have been a part of the health department over the last several years just to gain a better understanding of what happened to get into the situation that the department’s in, as well as what's being done right now to remedy the situation and also look into the future to ensure that something like this never happens again.
Pryor: You also expanded the probe to other agencies. Why?
Cockroft: Well, the speaker, when he set up this committee and named me the chairman of the committee, he gave us the purview to not only look into the situation at the state health department, but also to state government spending as a whole. And so you know as we go throughout this investigation, and as we've seen several systematic problems and state government, not just an isolated situation for one agency, but general accounting practices, internal controls that were not used at the State Department of Health. But the reason they weren't used is because there is not a uniform practice across state government. So we're going to continue to expand into other areas and as long as we have leads of mismanagement we're going to continue to look into those.
Ashley: Were you surprised to learn that there is no standard accounting practice within state government and state agencies?
Cockroft: Very much so. You know, as a as a lawmaker it's every year I am tasked, as well as the entire membership of the House of Representatives in the Senate, to come up with a budget, obviously, for the state of Oklahoma every spring. And to have gone through that process seven times and realize that there are not some simple, like I said, accounting practices and internal controls that aren't uniform across state government -- it's concerning. You would never run a business like that.
Pryor: Are you finding that other agencies are using questionable financial practices?
Cockroft: That's what we're going to continue to dig into. You know we've expanded into the department of tourism as well as the Office of Management and enterprise services for right now. OMES is the agency in charge of moving the monies around into accounts for all of the state agencies, so we thought it was important to go there fairly soon, so that some of those safeguards could be put in place to ensure that it doesn't go elsewhere. But you know, we received lots of tips, lots of things that are pointed towards other agencies having some of this trouble. So we're going to continue to go down that path.
Ashley: You established a tip line when your committee began its investigation. About how many tips have you received and are they still coming home?
Cockroft: They are still coming in. Over the time period of this investigation we've received over 60 tips to date. That's from not only concerned individuals across the state, but state employees with positions where they feel like some of this information needs to get out without retribution against them. So it's been a very helpful look into some of these other agencies and quite frankly, one of the reasons why we did expand so quickly.
Pryor: During the investigative committee hearing, some legislators seem surprised that the Office of Management and Enterprise Services did not have more oversight along the way. Do you see that changing? You see some recommendations coming as far as oversight. And who will handle that and how it will be done?
Cockroft: Yes. I think you're going to see a number of measures this coming year, in this coming session, that are going to be focused on making sure that there's better communication, not only between the executive branch and the legislative branch, but better communication between the state agencies and our legislative and executive branches, so that when we come together as a lawmaking body and the Senate comes together as their body every spring, we have an accurate picture of what exactly our state finances are so that we're not doing guesswork, so that we know the right questions to ask to ensure that our state taxpayer dollars are spent effectively and efficiently. So we're going to see several measures. I have several measures that I'll be working on this next year and in my capacity as the chairman of the committee, and I know many other members have also stepped up and said, "Yes, we're going to continue to take a look into it."
Pryor: State Rep. Josh Cockroft, thank you. That's Capitol Insider. To hear more of this conversation, go to the Capitol Insider Extra Podcast. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.