Drummond issues formal opinion pointing to lack of oversight in state purchasing
OKLAHOMA CITY (April 13, 2023) – Attorney General Gentner Drummond issued a formal opinion today affirming a recent report by the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT) that found significant shortcomings in state purchasing oversight.
Responding to an opinion requested by state Rep. Ryan Martinez, Drummond wrote that the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES) is required to maintain oversight of all agency acquisitions, including verifying an agency’s claim that an acquisition is exempted from the Central Purchasing Act.
The law created the position of the Central Purchasing Director to scrutinize governmental acquisitions as a safeguard against potential fraud. That director’s position and the Central Purchasing Division have been part of OMES since 2011.
The Attorney General opinion notes that the impact of the Central Purchasing Act has been diluted over the decades as certain state agencies have been granted limited exemption from it. Consequently, the LOFT report found that OMES essentially provided no accountability oversight of more than $3 billion in state expenditures from various agencies during Fiscal Year 2022.
Further, Drummond found that OMES has not followed its statutory duty to verify whether a claimed exemption is legitimate.
“Given the entirety of the legislative scheme, this office concludes that OMES is required to maintain oversight and responsibility for all agency acquisitions,” he wrote. “This necessarily includes routinely verifying an agency’s claim that an acquisition is statutorily exempt. This determination is consistent with the intent of the (Central Purchasing) Act, which ultimately is to protect the public at large by promoting economy in government and reducing the likelihood of fraud.
“To permit blanket exceptions without requiring oversight by OMES would provide sweeping and carte blanche authority to administrative agencies, risking that they might irresponsibly discharge their trusted duties to care for taxpayer funds. This was certainly not the intent of the Legislature; that intent requires concluding that OMES has a duty to ensure ‘that government officials are accountable to the public and are discharging their duties competently and responsibly,’ including by overseeing exemptions of all kinds.”
Drummond urged state legislators to give serious consideration to recommendations made in the LOFT report issued earlier this month.
“The LOFT report on the State’s purchasing system is a solid examination of what unthinkably has been allowed to become a seriously flawed process,” he said. “It appears as though reforms are needed to ensure accountability and oversight of taxpayer funds. It is incredulous to think no one questioned what we now know was occurring within the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department or that an executive branch agency was exempted from an $18 million purchase, despite the law plainly limiting the exemption to purchases not exceeding $250,000.”
The opinion can be read here.