Taking Oversight to LOFTy Heights in Oklahoma.

Author:Wood, Natalie
Position:LEGISLATIVE STRENGTHENING - Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency
 
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Strong legislative oversight is a top priority for many state lawmakers, with good reason. It is a fundamental institutional check and balance, crucial to legislative independence and effectiveness.

To help meet this responsibility, at least three-fourths of state legislatures have specialized units to evaluate state government policies and programs, and a majority of legislative audit or evaluation offices have operated for more than 25 years. Alaska and South Dakota expanded their oversight capacity by adding program evaluation units in 2013 and 2018, respectively. This year, it was Oklahoma's turn.

Lawmakers in the Sooner State passed legislation (Senate Bill 1), co-sponsored by Senate President Pro Tern Greg Treat (R) and House Speaker Charles McCall (R), creating a nonpartisan, centralized legislative staff office: the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency, or LOFT. The bill empowers LOFT to review budgetary decisions and agency performance--distinct from audits performed by the executive branch. The law also sets powers, duties and definitions for the new agency, appropriates funding and creates a bipartisan legislative committee to oversee its work. LOFT will, according to Treat, give lawmakers and the public tools to hold state agencies accountable and ensure the people's money is spent wisely and efficiently.

The legislation is the culmination of several years of work to strengthen legislative oversight in Oklahoma. A previous Senate-led attempt was vetoed by the governor, and budgeting constraints over several legislative sessions stymied Houseled measures.

That changed in 2017 when the Legislature passed a bill, authored by McCall, that formed the Agency Performance and Accountability Commission, whose members were appointed by legislative leaders and the governor. The commission was authorized to audit a limited number of agencies, was staffed by legislative and executive branch personnel and was permitted to contract with other entities to conduct audits.

Still, the Legislature wanted more. Last year, leaders coalesced...

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