State Department Of Health Under Investigation
OKLAHOMA CITY - A State House of Representatives Investigative Committee is looking into the misspending of at least $30-million at the Department of Health.
Last week, the department announced it is laying off almost 200 workers.
The committee met for more than 8 hours, trying to figure out how the Department of Health could misappropriate the cash over six years and go unnoticed. And the testimony News 9 heard is disturbing.
Representative Josh Cockroft (R) Cleveland County suggested to the governor’s Chief of Staff that she knew about the problems back in September, but didn’t share that info.
“In fact, isn’t it true that the governor herself had a text string with the state auditor regarding the health department earlier that month?” Cockroft asked.
“If she did I’m not aware of that,” said Chief of Staff Chris Benge.
Cockroft replied, “If this is true, the health department problems were not mentioned to the press at the time.”
The legislature agreed to send the Department of Health $30-million to replace the misspent funds.
Interim Department of Health Director Preston Doerflinger, who was the Secretary of Finance at the time of the misspending, says he only learned of the issue in late October.
“You’re the secretary of finance and revenue. The director. And you’re acting like you didn’t know anything about this until one week before it went down?” Representative Bobby Cleveland (R) Cleveland County asked.
“That’s correct. Did you?” Doerflinger replied.
“I’m not the secretary of finance sir,” Cleveland said.
Doerflinger responded, “What I’m telling you is that we should all be mad and that we all had an obligation.”
There are also questions about the budget. The governor vetoed much of it, but didn’t sign off on the final section repealing the general appropriations budget. Cockroft says that could mean the budget is not valid.
The governor was not available for comment.
Finally, the committee learned there was little if any oversight into spending at the Department of Health.
Doerflinger says the agency overspent on things like staff. So, he says, cutting 200-positions should not have an impact on services.
“I do think, as I’ve said numerous times, we have bloat throughout the agency and I’m not concerned about service delivery being affected by the elimination of these positions,” Doerflinger said.
Cockroft says, if the Department of Health can get away with misspending so much money over such a long period of time, “It begs the question where else is that happening?”