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The Threat of Decentralization Gone, Oklahoma IT Realigns

Not all legislation is written with the intention of having it signed into law. Occasionally, it’s meant to serve as a lever to align lawmakers and state agencies. In Oklahoma, that’s just what it did.

A bill to decentralize Oklahoma’s IT just died quietly in the state Legislature. The author used it to bring first-term Gov. Kevin Stitt’s administration to the table to brainstorm how to make IT more customer-friendly … and it worked. 

David Ostrowe, secretary of Digital Transformation and Administration, has partnered with Senate Bill 227’s author, Sen. Roger Thompson, and others to enact change within the Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES). Thompson’s legislation preceded the new administration and an audit into OMES, which the new overseer, Secretary of Agency Accountability John Budd, asked to be conducted.

“The audit was really going to go ahead and expose a lot of things we already knew, but we wanted to make sure we had complete transparency that we knew we had a problem,” Ostrowe told Government Technology. “The other issue is the prior administration built this center and they didn’t require people to move their data over there. So, we have a state IT shop that some people use, and some people don’t use.”

While the audit is still ongoing, Ostrowe said he’s already implemented a multi-step method to expediate and refine IT projects, of which there are currently about 650. STITT, named after the governor, reviews a proposal’s execution strategy, if it enhances the lives of Oklahomans, how it will be funded, if it’s scalable, if it requires customized script and other criteria. STITT stands for Statewide Technology Innovation Transformation Team, he said. 

“The issue was the culture over there, for whatever reason, was just to accept projects that were loosely structured ideas and so a loosely structured idea became one of their responsibilities that they weren’t able to deliver from a manpower perspective or from understanding the true needs of the agency,” Ostrowe said. Agencies are now required to have a designated liaison who will work with IT personnel to relay their department’s problem and desired solution.

Thompson said $15 million was approved in the Fiscal Year 2019-20 budget for digital transformation. The earmarked funds will be under the purview of Ostrowe. 

“At this time, I do not plan to pursue any additional legislation on SB227,” Thompson said. “Secretary Ostrowe has committed to work with me in the transition of making OMES IT more customer-friendly to all of the agencies. … SB227 was always a tool to get their attention and change the dynamics at the agency.”

Ostrowe said the $15 million will be used to interconnect state agencies and improve the lives of Oklahomans, such as launching a single sign-on system for residents to access government services. 

“What we’re using that $15 million for is a number of things,” he said. “Anything that takes us to the next level and that’s not funded independently.”

He said he values the input of lawmakers, like Thompson, because they will be able to remove outdated statutes, rules and regulations on the books. 

“If we agree a road needs to go in front of a building and there’s a tree in the middle of the road, we would bulldoze the tree,” Ostrowe said. “But if there’s an IT project that has a statute in the middle of it [OMES was] building custom script to go around some weird law versus explaining it to the Legislature.”

Ostrowe’s newly formed Department of Digital Transformation and Administration and STITT reflect several changes ushered in by Gov. Stitt since he took office in January. The governor charged Ostrowe with handling data transformation statewide with 49 agencies reporting to him. He described his position as essentially filling the former secretary of finance role.

“There are several projects that my team has taken over [from OMES] that were probably the basis for Sen. Thompson’s irritation,” he said. “Just to help out until they can get through this list.”

Patrick Groves was a staff writer for Government Technology from 2019 to 2020.