| November 5, 2012
It’s Time to Stop Taxpayer Funding of the Indian Museum
Findings in the recent performance audit of the Native American Cultural and Education Authority (NACEA) leave no doubt that it’s time to put an end to taxpayer funding for the NACEA, and that lawmakers were right to reject another bond proposal.
The findings of the performance audit are discouraging, especially considering that taxpayers have committed more than $112 million to the project to date. Findings include:
- The board chose the “Vision Plan,” the most elaborate and expensive of the options provided by the project architects in 2004. Projects on such a grand scale require substantial funding, however, and at no time has the board’s available funding closely approached its projected expenditures.
- Through our procedures, we found a number of inconsistencies and deficiencies that can be attributed to improper planning by both the NACEA board and the legislature. These inconsistencies and deficiencies have negatively impacted the AICCM [American Indian Cultural Center and Museum], as evidenced in the project budgeting, overall vision, management, oversight, funding strategy, fundraising strategy, and the conflicting interests of stakeholders.
- Though the agency was created in 1994, began receiving operational funding in 1996, and obtained its first infusion of bond financing in 1998, it appears a project budget was not created until April 2001. According to one project contractor, the April 2001 budget of $169 million was not developed to reflect actual project costs, but solely to secure federal funding.
- Not only does the board maintain this vision for the project in the present, but it has opted for such an idea since the project’s inception. In August 2004, the main project architects presented the Board with the following six construction project options and corresponding cost estimates:
- A board and staff lacking relevant experience compensated for this lack of internal experience by hiring multiple consultants, including architecture firms, project managers, geotechnical consultants, attorneys, design developers, and institutional planning services. Multiple board members justified the use of consultants of excellent caliber by referring to their expertise in particular areas of museum development, again citing what should be required of a “world-class” facility. During the audit period, the board contracted with these consultants for more than $18.7 million.
There’s no need for Oklahomans to discuss Solyndra or the Chevy Volt as an example of government waste. Oklahoma taxpayers have a story that hits much closer to home—the NACEA. Given this project’s track record, it is no wonder that private participation was minimal until recent pressure was exerted to leverage more taxpayer funds. No private citizen or private business could survive with this kind of track record.
Although lawmakers rejected more funds for the NACEA during the 2012 legislative session, some are concerned that the vote was influenced by the looming November election and that the lack of an impending election could result in politicians experiencing a “change of heart” in 2013. Taxpayers and citizens will have to remain vigilant.
It’s not often that OCPA agrees with the liberal Tulsa World, but in this instance we do: “No more taxpayer funding for the Indian museum.”
Jonathan Small, a Certified Public Accountant, is OCPA’s fiscal policy director.