Sunday, May 12, 2019

OCPA column: It's time for government to change


It’s time for government to change
By Jonathan Small

One reason Oklahoma remains mired at the bottom of many national rankings is that policymakers have been too willing to accept the status quo. “Because that’s how we’ve always done it” has been tolerated as an excuse for keeping government systems the same, year in and year out, regardless of results.

It’s still early, but Gov. Kevin Stitt appears to be an exception to that rule. He is challenging many long-held assumptions about Oklahoma government. Stitt has requested, and the Legislature has granted him, the power to appoint the leaders of major state agencies. The old system allowed Oklahomans to elect a new chief executive every four years, but then allowed unaccountable bureaucrats to stymie the voters’ desire for change. Thanks to Stitt’s efforts, a new degree of accountability has been added to government.

But Stitt’s efforts extend beyond reforming how agency leaders are selected. He’s also working to bring state agencies into the 21st century. Among those at the forefront of this fight is David Ostrowe, Stitt’s secretary of digital transformation and administration. Ostrowe’s job is to identify and eliminate much needless duplication and inefficiency in government. It appears there’s not a short supply of either, since Ostrowe recently remarked in a TV interview that Oklahoma’s current government structure can be described as follows: “If there’s a simple process, a simple way to go from A to Z, we go back to B several times.” The administration is working so everything from paying taxes to getting a license can soon be done via mobile technology. And the administration is trying to break down barriers between agencies, noting it makes no sense for Oklahomans to have to fill out the same paper forms over and over again every time they interact with a different part of government.

At a recent town hall event in Kingfisher, Stitt noted that Oklahomans could not use a credit card to pay for campsites at some state parks. In some instances, people literally stuffed cash into a box. “Y’all might help me with this,” Stitt quipped, “but I’m not positive that all those dollars made it to the treasury.” Thanks to Stitt’s efforts, Oklahomans can now use credit cards at those sites.

For too long, Oklahoma politicians have argued that there’s nothing wrong with state government, aside from not collecting enough taxes from Oklahoma workers. Stitt appears to be cut from different cloth. If he continues down the path he’s on, Oklahomans may soon enjoy greater convenience from state government. But more importantly, they will have government that responds to challenges by making limited tax dollars stretch further instead of default resorting to tax increases.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (www.ocpathink.org).

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