Budget & Tax

Ray Carter | August 20, 2019

LOFT Oversight Committee debates how to measure effectiveness

Ray Carter

Members of the Oversight Committee for the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT) voted Tuesday to begin the process of hiring a director for the newly created office, but much of the meeting was spent discussing a more fundamental question: How can officials best measure the effectiveness of LOFT without making it subject to undue political influence?

“We are going to need more definition about how we will hold LOFT accountable itself,” said Sen. Julia Kirt, D-Oklahoma City. “So how are we going to define outcomes and success and goals and objectives for LOFT itself?”

If the oversight committee does not set those measurements, she said lawmakers would be leaving it “entirely” to the LOFT director “to define what outcomes we’re seeking.”

“I think we have to hold ourselves as accountable for LOFT as we intend to hold agencies accountable to LOFT,” Kirt said.

Lawmakers created LOFT this year to audit agency budgets and evaluate the effectiveness of state programs and services, and then issue reports of resulting conclusions that will inform legislative debate.

Sen. Roger Thompson, an Okemah Republican who co-chaired the oversight committee, noted the goal of creating LOFT was to make the office “as nonpolitical as possible and as independent as possible” and suggested lawmakers need to be cautious that any measurement of LOFT’s work product should not reflect political considerations.

“Ultimately, they will be reporting to us. We’ll be working with them as a committee. We’ll be giving direction,” Thompson said. “But we want to set something up at the very beginning that the data come as independent as absolutely possible. And so they need to do their work regardless of politics or political influence from inside or outside. And that’s why the director’s work is key for making this thing work.”

Rep. Kevin Wallace, a Wellston Republican who is the group’s other co-chair, noted that one way to evaluate the effectiveness of LOFT will be measured in how lawmakers use the data it produces.

“As far as the success of programs within each agency and what is the taxpayer really receiving for those dollars spent in certain areas, that information needs to be factual and accurate,” Wallace said. “But it’s really going to come down to the decision of this committee to move forward to the Legislature on success or not of LOFT, in my opinion.”

In studying LOFT-style entities in other states, Kirt noted “a lot of the national information shows outputs as the primary thing that they’re tracking—so numbers of reports, numbers of investigations. But I would suggest that the types of qualities we’re implying mean we need to be looking at the bigger picture, like you suggest. Does the Legislature trust the documents LOFT is putting out? Does this improve public trust? What are the other things we’re really going to be analyzing to hold us accountable to something other than just putting out paper?”

“That’s something this committee will be addressing once we get everything in place,” Thompson said.

Wallace said the metrics used to measure LOFT’s effectiveness should not be based simply on volume.

“We’re not looking for quantity,” Wallace said. “We really want quality.”

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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