An investigative committee probing the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department’s embattled contract with Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen questioned Steven Harpe, the director of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services on Monday.
Harpe said the agency “didn’t have a role” with the contract, which a spending watchdog said resulted in more than $12 million being overpaid to Swadley’s.
Committee chairman Ryan Martinez, R-Edmond, was critical of the agency’s lack of intervention in the contract, which was terminated in April after announcements that the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and State Auditor had received complaints of financial misconduct.
The OMES only found out about the contract in March 2021, about one year after it was signed by Swadley’s and then-Tourism Director Jerry Winchester. In February 2021, Winchester and the department agreed to a change in the arrangement, which included more than $1 million to Swadley’s to cover its operational losses.
Martinez said Harpe and the OMES should have audited the contract when it was changed.
“Usually when you see the red flag, you hit the pause button and say, 'I’m going to ask some questions before I write one more check.' And that didn’t happen,” Martinez said after Tuesday’s hearing.
Harpe said the agency, which provides financial assistance throughout state government and houses the state purchasing director, did not help form the Swadley’s contract because of an action by the Tourism department.
Tourism used an exemption outside of the Oklahoma Central Purchasing Act, which resulted in OMES vacating any involvement in the Swadley’s contract, Harpe said.
He added the OMES could have been more involved in the contract if state law were different.
“I think there's a misunderstanding that OMES has been given all this grand power to oversee everything financial in the state of Oklahoma, and that's just not the case,” Harpe said. “OMES could have played a different role, but where are the triggers? What should be the triggers?”
Martinez said Harpe could be called back for questioning before the committee, which has not yet scheduled its next meeting or announced who it will seek a deposition from next.
“If the statute isn't very clear on who’s responsible for this, we're going to have to clear up that gray area,” Martinez said.