- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Here are excerpts of recent editorials in Oklahoma editorials:

The Oklahoman, Feb. 14, 2014

Oklahoma governor’s consolidation plan warrants careful review

Gov. Mary Fallin has called for consolidating five state agencies to reduce state expenses. The responses of affected agency personnel include both serious critiques and comments seemingly aimed only at protecting turf.

The governor has called for consolidating the Oklahoma Arts Council, J.M. Davis Memorial Commission, Oklahoma Historical Society, Will Rogers Memorial Commission and Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission into the Tourism Department. She estimates those changes would reduce associated expenses by 15 percent.

In theory, consolidation usually makes sense. Multiple stand-alone agencies with similar missions ultimately involve duplication, particularly in administration. But consolidation doesn’t always generate the savings envisioned.

When lawmakers voted to consolidate management of state government information technology under the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, proponents thought it would streamline administration and reduce costs. Instead, some smaller agencies saw their IT expenses increase. At larger agencies, the main impact was that IT staffers who previously were department employees instead became employees of OMES. But their offices remained in the same place.

Those larger agencies now pay OMES for IT services the agencies previously controlled directly. Some duplication may have been eliminated, but an additional layer of bureaucracy is now embedded in state government. The verdict is still out on whether this effort truly generated a taxpayer benefit.

Fallin deserves credit for seeking administrative savings in state government, but lawmakers should carefully vet this issue. Ed Fite, administrator of the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission, raises some legitimate concerns. Noting that his commission handles environmental regulations, Fite argues that it’s a poor fit for tourism and would be better placed with an environmental agency. That’s a valid point - although it could be addressed with only a minor tweak to Fallin’s plan.

Officials at several agencies indicated they would have to cut services to achieve projected savings. This isn’t true if savings are generated simply by reducing administrative overhead, eliminating duplicative positions and reaping operational savings through increased economies of scale. However, if officials are required to save more than that amount, then the critics are right and the core mission of the agencies would be affected.

Whether or not all these operations are truly necessary, core functions of government is a debate worth having, but the potential impact shouldn’t be ignored. Still, in this fiscal environment, all five agencies would have likely seen a budget cut anyway; consolidation could therefore help preserve services.

Joel Gavin, marketing and communications director for the Oklahoma Arts Council, says consolidation of his agency would ultimately “undermine Oklahoma’s ability to compete for business and a creative workforce.” The arts play a vital role in economic development. They can help attract businesses. Yet there’s no reason the state can’t provide arts grants and support through a division of the Tourism Department instead of through a stand-alone agency. In fact, the synergies created by consolidation could augment arts promotion efforts while still saving money.

Still, it’s important that lawmakers seriously review Fallin’s consolidation proposal. If the plan doesn’t actually reduce costs, or if it ultimately increases bureaucracy and makes government less responsive, then it doesn’t serve Oklahoma citizens. But if Fallin’s plan allows the state to do the same job for less money - or eliminates unnecessary spending - it deserves support.


Tulsa World, Feb. 17, 2014

I-44: At long last, an end in sight

It’s been a long road and the end cannot arrive soon enough.

Sometime later this year, the hugely disruptive but absolutely essential widening of Interstate 44 from Yale Avenue to Riverside Drive is scheduled for completion.

This $400 million project, including the work around Lewis Avenue and a bridge replacement over that busy arterial street, might be done as early as midyear if the weather cooperates.

Thousands of travelers who rely on the corridor are giddy with anticipation.

The project has been especially hard on drivers who use the Lewis Avenue bridge and the many businesses clustered near it.

They’ve played through the pain, undoubtedly suffering economic losses when customers avoided the area.

Launched more than five years ago, the I-44 widening project is one of the biggest in state history and on one of the most traveled roads. It turned out to cost more than the original estimate — $340 million — and it’s exceeded the finish date of 2012 or 2013 originally predicted.

Oklahoma Department of Transportation Kenna Carmon said increased costs for construction, early incentive-completion payments and additional engineering and plan development all boosted the final cost.

But consider the alternative if the long-dreaded work had not gotten off the ground five years ago. The heavily traveled link would have deteriorated further and been even less able to accommodate increasing traffic.

The weather has not been a friend this season for construction projects — and there are many in all directions. Travelers grouse that there must be some kind of conspiracy to keep them from getting to where they want to go.

There’s no conspiracy; it’s just road work, which takes time and money. Come mid-year, motorists on I-44 will be putting all five years’ worth of inconvenience and frustration, in the rearview mirror.


Stillwater NewsPress, Feb. 15, 2014

Research week set to begin

Nina Davuluri will be a member of an important panel discussion at Oklahoma State University on Thursday.

Davuluri, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Education, will join other panelists as they discuss the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in education during OSU Research Week, which begins Monday.

Davuluri knows the importance of a STEM education. She soon will be entering medical school.

Oh, she’s also Miss America 2014.

Davuluri is just one of a host of informed, talented and inspired people who make up Research Week, which is being held for the 11th consecutive year at OSU.

Alexandra Cousteau, a filmmaker and global water advocate - and the granddaughter of Jacques-Yves Cousteau - will be the keynote speaker at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Student Union Theater.

Kelly Green, coordinator of Research Communications at OSU, said the weeklong event is an opportunity for everyone to get a better understanding of the kind of research and elevated thinking that goes on inside the university walls. One of the best things about Research Week is that it is free and open to the public.

For more information about Research Week, log on to www.research-week.okstate.edu. The site includes a detailed daily account of speakers, programs and presentations.

Do yourself a favor and attend several of the presentations. You will be inspired.



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