Wednesday, November 22, 2017

No waste left? Agencies spend on Facebook 'likes', social media ads

One idea discussed often by conservative Oklahoma legislators and groups this past year was putting the brakes on non-essential promotional spending ("swag") by state agencies. Measures carried by State Rep. George Faught (R-Muskogee) and State Sen. Rob Standridge (R-Norman) stalled in their respective chambers during the regular and special sessions, but Governor Mary Fallin unexpectedly issued an executive order along the same lines earlier today.

OCPA estimated "swag" spending at $39M, Rep. Faught and Sen. Standridge both estimated it at about $30M, while Fallin's favorite bureaucrat (Preston Doerflinger) said there is no "swag" spending at all... but the Governor's estimate in her executive order is "up to $58 million a year."

One common refrain by those who have advocated for raising taxes rather than cutting waste from state government has been that agencies are "cut to the bone", and that "there is no fat left to trim". That's simply not the case, as evidenced by the fact that the Governor believes "up to $58 million a year" can be saved by eliminating non-essential promotional spending.

Back in June, I saw the below advertisement on Facebook from the Oklahoma State Department of Education:

After continuing to periodically see ads from the State Department of Education, I reached out last week to the top-10 appropriated state agencies, asking for information about their social media spending levels during the last fiscal year (FY17) and the current fiscal year (FY18). Some responded, others did not.

These agencies reported spending nothing in FY17 or FY18 on social media advertising:

  • Department of Corrections
  • Office of Juvenile Affairs
  • State Regents for Higher Education

These agencies reported social media advertising spending (FY17 and FY18-to-date):
  • State Department of Education: FY17 - $4,794.65, FY18 - $1,129.32 (Facebook)
  • Department of Human Services:  FY17 - $1834, FY18 - $6285 (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram for recruitment of Child Welfare Specialists)
  • Oklahoma Health Care Authority: FY17 - $299.58, FY18 - $259.94 (Facebook; mostly through federally funded grants)
  • Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services: no state funds, but do periodically have federally-funded grants that include some social media spending

Is running Facebook ads an appropriate use of limited state funds, especially given the repeated claims of lack of funding by state agencies? I think not.

'Isn't this a minuscule amount, given the size of these agencies budgets?' you might ask. Yes, $14,600 is a drop in the bucket compared to the ~$7B in state appropriations or the ~$18B in total state spending. However, the fact that this type of spending has not already been eliminated bears witness to the fact that there remains spending that can be cut from state agencies.

Eliminating waste requires common sense and the will to actually do what needs to be done. Agencies need to take responsibility and eliminate what is not absolutely, fundamentally necessary to their function, and the Executive and Legislative branches need to exercise effective oversight of the state bureaucracy to ensure that that happens. 

In the meantime, perhaps average citizens and state workers can help expose waste and unnecessary spending in state government. If you have a tip or want to blow a whistle over wasteful spending that you are aware of, feel free to contact me.


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