Communities Foundation of Oklahoma in question

by Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond

Generally Speaking

It seems like every time a new audit of state government is released, taxpayers get more bad news about how their tax dollars are being handled.

One of my chief priorities since taking office last year has been to address a culture of corruption and scandal that has clouded state government in recent years. My office has stayed busier than I would like with this task.

The latest audit released by State Auditor and Inspector Cindy Byrd has added to the list of problems to address, and it revealed potentially criminal abuse.

Auditor Byrd’s report on federal expenditures during Fiscal Year 2022 uncovered deeply flawed practices and millions in misspent funds. The audit reviewed more than $13 billion in state expenditure of federal funds, most of which were Covid-19 relief dollars.

Among the largest amount of questionable expenses were about $21 million in state contracts with a nonprofit, Communities Foundation of Oklahoma, for a program designed to help Oklahomans with rental and utility assistance. As a result, the audit found, more than 5,300 Oklahomans did not receive the financial help they needed.

While thousands of Oklahomans were denied the relief these funds were intended to provide, state bureaucrats somehow found a way to spend millions on resettling Afghan “refugees.” The audit identified $6.5 million in funds spent on relocating Afghans to Oklahoma with no proper authorization.

The resettlement program itself was mired in controversy. After President Biden’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, his Administration sought to resettle thousands of Afghans who were believed to have assisted U.S. forces during the war. It certainly is noble to take care of our allies who faced torture and death under Taliban rule, but a report by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General found the Biden Administration did not properly vet the foreign nationals before placement in the country.

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) did not always have critical data to properly screen, vet, or inspect the evacuees,” noted the September 2022 report. This means our state government spent $6.5 million without proper authorization to bring Afghans to Oklahoma who were not properly screened or vetted. This should be concerning to us all.

In addition to the many millions of wasted and misspent tax dollars, the audit identified potentially unlawful actions by the former executive director of the Oklahoma Employment Securities Commission (OESC), Shelley Zumwalt. While serving in that leadership role, the audit found she approved more than $7 million in contracts for a software company where her husband is a vice president.

Overall, the audit found systemic lack of oversight and accountability within the Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services (OMES). Of particular concern for Auditor Byrd was that agency’s use of “rolling solicitations,” a 2019 pilot program in which OMES leaders can place any private vendor on a list to be awarded state contracts without being subject to competitive bidding.

Prior to the release of the latest audit, I requested an investigative audit of OMES. The latest findings confirm the need for that more detailed and specialized audit. Any fraudulent activity must be uncovered so it can be rooted out.

I am committed to transparency in the spending of our tax dollars, and I will hold accountable bad actors who exploit the system. Transparency and accountability: the latest audit has demonstrated ample need for both.

OPA Award Badge
OPA Award Badge
OPA Award Badge