Good Government

Curtis Shelton | May 4, 2018

The buck stops.…here?

Curtis Shelton

Assigning responsibility within government, figuring out where the buck stops, can be just as confusing as Abbott and Costello’s classic “Who's on First?” routine. But it’s not funny, because it’s our tax dollars.

Just as financial mismanagement was being uncovered at the Oklahoma State Department of Health, an investigation uncovered illegal financial actions at the Oklahoma Tourism Department. These and other scandals involving government agencies have called into question the efficacy of the executive branch. Who is ultimately responsible? Where exactly does the buck stop?

In some agencies, board members (who may not have been appointed by the current governor, or any other currently elected officials) select a commissioner who then runs the agency. The commissioner might be responsible to the board but also report to the governor. This confusion comes from how our executive branch was designed. The founders of Oklahoma believed a weak executive would better protect the people. However well-intentioned, this has not proven the case.

Each state government agency in Oklahoma operates within the executive branch; the governor is the chief executive. The Oklahoma Constitution, however, splits the power between many different executive branch positions instead of empowering the governor to control the executive branch. Many of these agencies are controlled by board members who were not appointed by the current governor. Until as recently as last year, board members were also very hard to remove. House Bill 2316, passed in 2017, gave the governor power to remove any gubernatorial appointment, except for those provided in the constitution, even if they were appointed by the previous governor.

This year, more progress was made with two bills: House Bill 3036 and House Bill 3603. These bills give the governor power to directly appoint the commissioner of two different agencies—the Oklahoma State Department of Health and the Oklahoma Tourism Department. The bills also move the board of each agency to an advisory role, putting more power in the hands of the commissioner. The commissioners of these agencies will be clearly responsible for the effectiveness and actions taken at their agencies. This will lead to greater accountability, with the commissioners answering directly to the governor.

OCPA has long advocated for strengthening the executive branch. Andrew Spiropoulos writes in OCPA’s Oklahoma Policy Blueprint, released in 2002, that one step to improve Oklahoma’s government “is to make government officials responsible to an officer that the people really do control.” The State Chamber of Oklahoma has recently joined this effort in calling for these reforms in their open letter to the Legislature.

While some may be wary of giving more control to the governor, the current decentralized structure of the executive branch has proven to be ineffective and unaccountable. As Alexander Hamilton explained in The Federalist, “A feeble executive implies a feeble execution of the government. A feeble execution is but another phrase for bad execution; and a government ill executed, whatever it may be in theory, must be, in practice, a bad government.” Creating a stronger executive ensures the buck stops with the governor and provides greater accountability to the people.

Curtis Shelton Policy Research Fellow

Curtis Shelton

Policy Research Fellow

Curtis Shelton currently serves as a policy research fellow for OCPA with a focus on fiscal policy. Curtis graduated Oklahoma State University in 2016 with a Bachelors of Arts in Finance. Previously, he served as a summer intern at OCPA and spent time as a staff accountant for Sutherland Global Services.

Loading Next