Gov. Kevin Stitt issued his first four executive orders last Thursday. The orders formalize his cabinet structure, prohibit state agencies from hiring new lobbyists or renewing contracts with existing firms, place a freeze on the hiring of additional classified employees and direct the Department of Public Safety to sell the governor's plane.
Stitt's first executive order - Executive Order 2019-01 - formalizes the governor's cabinet. Stitt said he will have 15 cabinet positions, the maximum allowed under statute. "I spent a lot of time going through the different cabinet positions from previous governors," said Stitt. "I went back all the way to Walters and studied his and studied Keating's. I studied Gov. Fallin's and made some changes to it, because I was elected to make sure we are holding all the different agencies and commissions accountable. Once we get that cabinet correct and we get all the different agencies reporting to the correct folks, it is going to be amazing how we deliver services for the people of Oklahoma."
Stitt noted he had split what previously had been the responsibilities of the finance secretary into three positions:
- Secretary of Budget, to which he has named former Sen. Mike Mazzei;
- Secretary of Agency Accountability and Chief Operating Officer, where he named John Budd; and
- Secretary of Digital Transportation and Administration, where he appointed David Ostrowe.
"It's a big goal of mine to deliver services and be a customer-focused government and make sure we are bringing Oklahoma government into the 21st century," Stitt said. "We are going to be rolling out things on digital transformation and I needed a secretary focused on that." Stitt said what previously had been the secretary of health and human services also would be split in two, creating a secretary of health and mental health and a secretary of human services and early childhood initiatives. Stitt has not yet named the individuals who will hold those posts.
"Education is such an important part of our administration that I did not want a barrier between our superintendent of schools that is elected, Joy Hofmeister. I wanted to make sure she had direct access to us," Stitt said. To facilitate that, Stitt said he is naming Secretary of State Michael Rogers to serve as secretary of education, as well.
Stitt's executive order lists three other positions to which he has not named cabinet nominees: secretary of Native American affairs, secretary of science and technology and secretary of veterans and military affairs.
Stitt said his second executive order - Executive Order 2019-02 - addresses agency transparency. "On my first day as governor, I was tasked with researching how many state agencies contract with outside lobbyists and I was shocked to find, and I am sure Oklahomans to find, I couldn't find out the information. I couldn't find out how many state agencies are hiring third-party lobbyists and what they're paying for it," Stitt said.
Stitt's executive order prohibits all state agencies from entering into any new or renewing any existing contract or other agreement with a lobbyist without the approval of its cabinet secretary. The executive order also requires agencies to provide information by March 29 about their contracts with lobbyists for fiscal years 2015 to FY2019, the current fiscal year, including the names of the lobbyists and the amount paid to them. It also asks the agencies to provide a description of the process used to hire lobbyists.
Stitt states in the order, "I have determined that it is not proper to use state funds for any state agency, board, or commission to expend taxpayers' money on the hiring of outside lobbyists to lobby the State's legislators on behalf of any state agency, board, or commission."
"It's frightening to think that one of our state agencies would hire a lobbyist that then turns around and lobbies these gentlemen behind me on make sense legislation and things that are going to move our state forward," Stitt said Thursday as Republican Reps. Marcus McEntire, of Duncan, Mark Lawson, from Sapulpa, and Josh West, from Grove, stood behind him. "We're going to put a stop to that."
Asked if wanted to see the practice of agencies hiring lobbyists ended permanently, Stitt said, "Yes."
He said it is appropriate for agencies to have legislative liaisons that provide information to lawmakers about their departments. "That is a part of state government: Educating the Legislature," Stitt said. "But I have a problem when they go out and hire and third-party lobbyist to come in and then influence the decision of (lawmakers) to make the right decision."
He said he was appropriation for private businesses and groups to hire lobbyists to represent them before the Legislature. "Oklahomans do not want our state agencies spending money to then try to protect their own interests," Stiff said.
Stitt estimated there are 35 to 70 agencies, boards and commissions that currently employ an outside lobbyist.
It is not possible to search the Ethics Commission's Guardian registration system on the basis of which state agencies employ outside lobbyists. That information can only be found by looking each lobbyist's registration information to find agency, boards and commissions among the lobbyist principals they represent. There are 306 legislative and executive lobbyists and 72 legislative-only lobbyists registered in the system.
According to a search of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services' central purchasing division's online records, the most recent lobbyist contract was awarded in Dec. 10 to FKG Consulting on behalf of the Board of Governors of the Licensed Architects, Landscape Architects and Registered Interior Designers. The contract was for $45,000 has four annual renewal options.
Stitt said his third executive order - Executive Order 2019-03 - maintains the state employee hiring freeze for classified employees. Stitt said there are some classified positions that are no longer needed, which limits agency directors' flexibility.
"I want to be clear: We have fantastic state employees in Oklahoma and some of them are classified," Stitt said. "But to really move the needle and give agency heads the ability to transform their agencies and be customer focused and to make sure we can innovate and deliver services for Oklahoma, we've got to make sure we don't grow those classified positions, that they are unclassified.
"We want to give the agency heads the ability to continue to hire and move the needle, but we don't want to do that through the classified employees," Stitt added.
The order permits each agency's cabinet secretary to grant an exception.
The Office of Management and Enterprise Services' human capital management job vacancy page lists nearly 350 classified position opportunities. Many of those are correctional officers and child welfare specialists.
Just 67 percent of the Department of Corrections' correctional officer positions currently are filled, Director Joe Allbaugh told the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Safety and the Judiciary and the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Public Safety during a joint meeting Tuesday.
The Department of Human Services has been operating under a court-approved settlement since 2012 called the Pinnacle Plan that is designed to improve its child welfare system. A key part of that plan is an increase in the number of child welfare staff, as well as increased pay for those positions.
Stitt's Executive Order 201-04 directs the Department of Public Safety to sell the governor's airplane, a 1990 Beech B300 King Air. "It just wasn't a good use of taxpayer's dollars."
Stitt, a licensed pilot, estimated the annual operational cost of the aircraft at approximately $1 million. He estimated the plan could sale for $2 million to $3 million. That money, he said, would go back to the Department of Public Safety.
Stitt said he also is looking at all state vehicles to make sure they are used effectively and efficiently.