OKLAHOMA CITY — State officials have taken issue with a report critical of how it has spent more than $1.2 billion in federal COVID-19 dollars.
The Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency on Wednesday issued a draft report saying the state failed to provide documentation to justify some of its spending.
It also found that a significant component of the relief funds was used for pre-existing needs and government modernization.
Some of the spending may not have met federal standards for necessary expenses in responding to the pandemic, the report said.
The legislative oversight panel on Thursday was prepared to discuss the report and hear from state officials with the CARES FORWARD team responsible for spending. But the item was pulled from the agenda during the meeting because of an illness in the family of Chief Operating Officer John Budd, one of the leaders of the CARES FORWARD team.
Budd and former Budget Secretary Mike Mazzei, also a team member, took issue with the report in a Jan. 20 letter to LOFT.
They noted it was the third draft after scrapping a prior report that was riddled with flaws they pointed out.
In the written response, the two said the report appears to be agenda-driven, seeking to “cast negative light on the monumental accomplishment of the CARES FORWARD Team’s work to distribute Coronavirus Relief Funds in the middle of the global COVID-19 pandemic.”
“The timing of LOFT’s work was an enormous distraction, pulling our team away from its critical duties to aid Oklahomans prior to a federally mandated deadline to, in many cases, help the brand-new LOFT [analysts] learn their trade and the workings of state government,” the response said.
The report includes “numerous inaccuracies” and “gross misrepresentations” calling into question the entire credibility and usefulness of the report, the response said.
The response said the report was agenda driven to find fault because the executive branch was given the authority to spend the funds.
The Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency, created in 2019, issued a rebuttal to the letter.
Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat was instrumental in assembling the office after he felt the Legislature needed independent analysis, data and metrics for legislation and state expenditures.
Treat and Senate Minority Leader Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, were asked about the report during their weekly press availabilities on Thursday.
Treat said he was proud of LOFT’s work and is digesting what is in the report.
He said he was disappointed with some of the language in the response, but that he had a deep respect for both Budd and Mazzei.
He said he will trust that the executive branch did its due diligence to ensure the state projects selected met the federal criteria.
Floyd said the report raised some concerns that the process may not have been properly followed.
If the federal dollars were not spent properly, the federal government can seek a return or claw back of the dollars, Floyd said.
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