Good Government

Oklahoma’s clumsy executive branch

February 4, 2019

Trent England

It’s basic civics: the first branch of government makes the laws, the second carries out the laws, and the third deals with disputes about the laws. The first branch—the legislature—is elected by the people. The second branch—the executive—is more complicated. It is made up of all sorts of agencies, covering everything from law enforcement and prisons to health and welfare programs.

While the legislature benefits from lots of different viewpoints and extended debate, the executive needs to be efficient. It needs to get things done. After all, the lawmaking process only matters if the laws made get carried into effect. 

What is the best way to get things done? Is it a series of disconnected committees (boards and commissions) and layers of vaguely shared authority? Or is it a clear structure of delegated power where everyone knows where the buck stops? No person in his right mind would choose option one. 

Oklahoma state government has, over time, become a lot more like option one than option two. In fact, it has become an outlier among state governments, as the chart below shows. Most states allow the top executive—the governor—to choose agency directors and to hold them accountable. 

To achieve more effective government in Oklahoma, we desperately need to reform the structure of our executive branch.

G = Governor Appointed
B = Board Appointed
O = Other
- = N/A

Data from Book of the States 2018, Chapter 4: State Executive Branch, Table 4.10  Selected State Administrative Officials: Methods of Selection.