State To Launch Unprecedented 'Real Time' Spending Database

Monday, March 4th 2019, 8:57 am
By: Grant Hermes

The state could be weeks away from launching a groundbreaking new way to track state spending, according to Sec. of Digital Transformation and Administration David Ostrowe.

In an interview last week, Ostrowe said the state is looking for vendors to help give complete transparency of the more than $20 billion spent each year by Oklahoma, in real time.

“Just like you have your home finances you can see what you're spending in every category,” Ostrowe said. “We're going to upload the budgets and actual spending real time as a part of our transparency.”

It's unclear how the state would show spending in real time, but in theory Ostrowe is describing something similar to the way someone tracks their own checking account from a mobile app. The change would be a major change compared to the current system using which generally releases data quarterly. The current bookkeeping in Oklahoma is considered among the worst in the country. A recent study of government finance reporting gave Oklahoma D+ rating.

Preliminary research found no state currently has a system showing actual real time spending and only a handful of companies do work like that including the organization Open The Books run by former Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn.

Updating the state’s bookkeeping and increasing transparency was the key promise of Governor Kevin Stitt’s campaign. In the run up to the election agency accountability was a main theme of campaign season after several high profile financial scandal at the Departments of Health and Tourism. The former resulted in an emergency $30 million infusion to prop the department and the laying off of more than 200 employees. It was later discovered the department had the $30 million all along and it was instead an error born of the agency’s 40-year-old accounting system and rampant financial mismanagement.

The legislature has begun the process of requiring OSDH to pay back the emergency funds.

Ostrowe also says the other goal of these changes is to find ways to save the state money without cutting jobs.

“I want to stress it's not agency cuts,” he said. “We are looking for waste, abuse and duplication.”

Ostrowe also suggested at one point during the interview as much as 10 percent of the state's annual spending could be attributed to financial mismanagement. He did not give examples to back up the assertion.

It's unclear how much the contract to make these record keeping changes was worth but Ostrowe said the state will be launching the new system in the next few weeks.