A strategic plan laying out one-year and four-year goals for Gov. Kevin Stitt’s administration includes securing gubernatorial control of all state agencies and boards, changing the educational system and launching an initiative aimed at social issues.
The draft plan, obtained by Oklahoma Watch, repeats some of Stitt’s campaign pledges to make Oklahoma a top-tier state and adds several new ones, including the “Community Turnaround” initiative aimed at teenage pregnancy, high school dropouts and other societal woes.
In an interview, Stitt said the plan came from his experience building Gateway Mortgage Group LLC and from a business management philosophy called Traction, a holistic entrepreneurial approach. The “Strategic Traction: State of Oklahoma” plan includes goals for agency accountability, education, jobs, infrastructure, health, government technology and state finances.
“Managing state government is like running a big service organization – there’s 33,000 employees, $20 billion in revenue,” Stitt said. “And to me, we haven’t had much of a vision or direction … I was trying to teach my cabinet and get down on paper, ‘Here’s where we want to go, guys.’”
The two-page plan, comprised of 10 bullet points for four-year objectives and 11 for one-year goals, includes some sweeping statements that suggest dramatic changes. The plan doesn’t include details but represents a summary of general goals.
One goal is to give the governor control of all agencies and boards, which goes beyond what Stitt has said before. Another is to produce within four years an “education system restructured and nationally ranked in the top 30.” Other goals are to bring about “a diversified economy” resulting in gross domestic product growth that is 20 percent above the national average and to provide “access to all government services digitally.” The plan’s references to top 30, including “top 30 in health outcomes,” differ from Stitt’s frequent references in the 2018 campaign to top 10 status in many areas. The plan does call for “bridges and roads in top 10 nationally.”
A separate page also mentions traits that Stitt values for those in his administration, including a “desire to make a difference,” people who are coachable and humble, and being “street smart.”
Stitt, who took office Jan. 14, said as a newcomer to government, he doesn’t have all the answers. “That’s why I have to surround myself with smart people and challenge myself to think differently,” he said.
“If you are not humble or coachable, number one, you’re not very fun to work with, and number two, you can’t get better because you think you know it all,” he added.
Stitt has visited several state agencies to meet front-line employees and sent emails to all employees explaining his vision for the state and asking for ideas as part of a competition called “JumpStart Oklahoma.”
“I and my staff want to hear your solutions to modernize outdated processes, improve broken workflows and create savings for Oklahoma taxpayers,” Stitt said in the email. “Now is your chance to send your ideas straight to the top, without bureaucratic intervention.”
In referring to the “Community Turnaround,” the strategic plan mentions lowering the divorce rate in the state – Oklahoma has one of the nation’s highest rates – and having “more kids in homes,” but Stitt didn’t indicate those were the focus.
Stitt said the initiative, which is in its early stages, would be similar to the efforts of recent Republican governors like Frank Keating, who had a marriage initiative, and Mary Fallin, who focused on foster care. (In settling a lawsuit, the state agreed in 2012 to improve the foster care system.) It would include leaders in each county that could build upon the existing efforts of nonprofits, philanthropic foundations or faith-based groups, he said. It would identify existing government services that could be supplemented by the efforts of those outside groups.
“The churches are excited,” he said. “They’re telling me, ‘Governor, put us in and tells us what to do, tell us where we can help with some of these other services.’ We’ve got fantastic foundations like the Inasmuch Foundation in Oklahoma City and the Kaiser Foundation in Tulsa. You’ve got great organizations that really have a heart to help people and there’s just not been a coordinated focus.”
The Oklahoma Marriage Initiative, which began in 1999 and ended in 2017, provided counseling, workshops and other support services for Oklahomans with the goal of reducing the state’s high rates of divorce as a way to fight poverty. The state’s divorce rate remained relatively high for the much the decade after the initiative began but, along with the nation as a whole, has dropped in recent years. Marriage rates also have fallen.
Control of Agencies
Stitt’s plan also calls for additional gubernatorial powers over state agencies, boards and commissions, with a four-year goal to “complete the control of all agencies and boards.”
Stitt scored an early win on this front when he got the House and Senate to agree to direct gubernatorial appointment, with Senate consent, of five agency directors.
“When we pass ABC (agency, board and commission) accountability, everyone will know the buck stops at the governor’s desk,” Stitt said at the brief Feb. 27 news conference he called when the legislation appeared stalled. The House and Senate disagreed over whether to keep those agency’s boards.
In the recent interview, Stitt said he thought further agency accountability was necessary in future legislative sessions. He mentioned one small agency whose work is outsourced to another agency, which conceded it was being overpaid for the outsourced work.
“I think that that would be an important function to have all of them (for the governor) because then you could really consolidate some of them and you could bring some of those together and make sure that they all are reporting up to the right person,” Stitt said.
Democrats in the House and Senate have questioned the need for direct governor control of all agencies, saying Oklahomans would lose a key avenue of oversight, expertise and public input if all boards were advisory. The legislators also worry about ceding too much power to the executive branch.
So far, Stitt said he hasn’t had much pushback on his agency reform plans beyond the criticisms by Democrats and some employee associations, who would rather the governor first focus on employee turnover. Stitt’s strategic plan has a four-year goal to lower turnover to less than 10 percent for key positions and staff.
However, a $16 million supplemental budget request by the Office of Management and Enterprise Services has emboldened some lawmakers, who are calling for the agency to be split up. The formation of OMES and information technology consolidation were key policies of Fallin’s.
Stitt said the agency originally requested a $23 million supplemental budget in October, before he was elected. His administration has since whittled that down to $16 million, but he still has questions about how the deficit happened. (On Thursday, Stitt requested a financial audit of the agency’s information services division.)
“I’m rolling up my sleeves, just like the House and the Senate,” Stitt said in the interview. “I’m frustrated as all get out that they had a budget and overspent. So we’re digging into what happened.”
Stitt said he reminds his staff that they need to deal with the day-to-day crises that inevitably pop up during a governor’s tenure, but they also need to keep focused on his plan, which he’s named “Oklahoma Turnaround.” Right now, about half of his working day is spent interviewing candidates for various boards, commissions or agencies.
“I haven’t been in the system for 30 years and I haven’t grown up in it and I’m totally coming from the outside,” Stitt said. “It’s what Oklahomans elected me for. So I have the freedom to actually go select for my cabinet the very best people. Some of them I didn’t even know. They weren’t donors to my campaign. They weren’t retiring state senators. They were the best people for the job.”
Although the plan references sweeping changes to the educational system, Stitt said they could include existing efforts to change the school-funding formula. Those plans are still being refined, but he said common education, technical education and higher education have operated too long in silos.
“I’m really focused on the kid and making sure that the kid is brought forward and has a great future to learn the skills,” Stitt said. “The skills are more different; the workforce of tomorrow is different. We’ve got to align the workforce better.”
Stitt’s draft plan isn’t limited to agency restructuring and public education. It also includes:
- Saving $2 billion in the state’s Rainy Day Fund. (Doing so would require voter approval to raise the constitutionally mandated cap, although in the interview Stitt said other accounts could hold the extra cash.)
- A 75-percent positive feedback from Oklahoma residents on their interactions with state government.
- Creating a mobile driver’s license and making other state services available online.
Oklahoma Watch is a nonprofit organization that produces in-depth and investigative journalism on important public-policy issues facing the state. More Oklahoma Watch content can be found at www.oklahomawatch.org.