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Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, left, issued an executive order Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019, requiring state agencies, boards and commissions to submit grant applications in excess of $50,000 to Secretary of Budget Mike Mazzei for approval. (NonDoc)

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt issued a new executive order this afternoon that will require all state agencies, boards and commissions to present certain grant opportunities to his office for approval before beginning the application process.

Under the order, state entities will first propose their grant applications to their corresponding cabinet secretaries for approval and then to Secretary of Budget Mike Mazzei.

The order (embedded below) does not apply to individual institutions of higher education or local school boards, and it establishes two monetary thresholds for submission:

  • grant opportunities in excess of $50,000 offered by individuals and private or public foundations not including the federal government;
  • grant opportunities in excess of $100,000 offered by agencies of the federal government, not including certain “emergency” grants — such as those offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency — or “formula” grants, such as those used to fund Medicaid, highway planning and construction, Title I education programs and similar applications.

Stitt: ‘We will work to avoid the pursuit of short-term money’

In a press release, Stitt framed his order as a step toward “transparency” and an attempt to avoid locking Oklahoma into administering new programs after federal funding “dries up.”

“For the first time in state history, our executive budget this year outlined total dollars spent by state agencies, to include roughly 30 percent of funding that comes from the federal government,” Stitt said in his release. “In this administration, we are focused on delivering transparency, accountability and oversight of Oklahomans’ tax dollars, whether it’s generated through the feds, fees, or fines. With this executive order, we will work to avoid the pursuit of short-term money that often leaves taxpayers holding the bag when the funding dries up, while also making certain that the grants we do apply for match the vision and values of Oklahoma.”

Stitt’s order stands as another expansion of gubernatorial oversight in a state that has historically featured a relatively weak executive office. Earlier in 2019, Stitt partnered with legislative leaders to provide him the authority to hire and fire the directors of several large agencies. He has overseen a change of leadership at multiple agencies, and he has also prohibited state agencies from hiring contract lobbyists

“Federal dollars are a significant part of the State’s total $19 billion budget,” Mazzei said in the governor’s release. “We’ve collaborated with the entire cabinet in order to address federal grants in a thoughtful manner that will streamline the approval process and comply with federal requirements to maintain a centralized database.”

Thompson: Stitt’s order ‘to hold each agency responsible’

Mazzei, a former Republican state senator, has at times had a tense relationship with agency leaders and some current legislators. In May, his confirmation as secretary of budget briefly appeared in jeopardy after frustrations percolated over lawmaker access to agency information.

But Stitt’s executive order increasing Mazzei’s oversight Tuesday drew praise from at least one legislative budget leader: Senate Appropriations and Budget Chairman Roger Thompson (R-Okemah).

“I believe it is very important for those working on the budget to know all grants that have been applied for and the cost on the state’s part to receive each grant,” Thompson said. “The governor’s executive order is seeking to hold each agency responsible for their grant request.”

House Minority Leader Emily Virgin (D-Norman) said Stitt’s order displays a lack of trust toward state employees.

“The governor certainly has the authority to create barriers between state agencies and federal tax dollars,” Virgin said in a statement. “He obviously doesn’t have faith that state employees on the ground can handle this task, and he would rather two individuals he handpicked make these decisions regardless of their experience in the agency. I think my preference would be for our governor to trust our state employees and work to cut the red tape between Oklahomans and their federal tax dollars not create more of it.”

(Editor’s note: This story was updated at 4:05 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 24, to include a statement from Virgin.)

Read Stitt’s full executive order