Pinnacle Plan Unveiled

By State Rep. Mike Sanders

Like many of you, I have strong feelings regarding government expansion. I truly believe our state government takes in more than enough money to provide first-rate services to hard-working taxpayers. Unfortunately, many state agencies continue to misspend our tax dollars and ignore the priorities that Oklahomans hold, including services that are the most important such as child welfare.

The Oklahoma Pinnacle Plan, a recently unveiled plan to improve our child welfare system, has many necessary and positive components. The plan includes increasing the number of child welfare workers, recruiting more foster parents, reducing the use of shelters for children under the age of six, vertically integrating the organizational structure and holding staff at all levels to greater accountability. These are all great ideas and things that need to be done. This is a step in the right direction.

The plan also comes with a price tag of $150 million to pay for more than 200 new child welfare specialists and approximately 40 new supervisors. The Department of Human Services currently employs 1,040 child welfare specialists with 190 supervisors.

With nearly 7,300 employees and a $2.2 billion budget consisting of federal and state funding, DHS is one of the largest state agencies. I do not believe it is necessary to spend an additional $150 million to execute this plan. In lieu of excessive expenditures, I would suggest shifting positions from other divisions of this large, bureaucratic agency to the child welfare division in order to meet its needs. This can easily be done by consolidating a number of support positions that fulfill the same role. Additionally, I do not believe increasing the number of supervisors would be beneficial. This agency and its goals would be best served with more well-trained front-line workers, as opposed to an increase in middle management employees.

Nonetheless, I am very pleased by the speed at which the newly-led Human Services Commission has presented a new plan to address the many concerns Oklahomans have with this agency. This progress is in large part due to the hard work of Brad Yarbrough, Wes Lane and Steven Dow.

Within the Oklahoma Legislature, there will be five or six major DHS reform bills, one of which I am the primary author. My bill will address increased accountability. We are still in the process of revising the language of this bill before it will be presented in its final form. I will explain in more depth when my bill is ready for a vote on the Senate floor.

I am also pleased by the appointment of Preston Doerflinger as interim director of DHS. As Governor Mary Fallin’s finance director, he is an accomplished leader in the efficient administration of tax dollars.

Finally, I am pleased by the reforms we are pushing through the Legislature this session. I am hopeful that we will see a turnaround as the Pinnacle Plan suggests, with my only reservation being the financial execution of this plan. However, I am certain that legislative leaders and the governor will take this concern into consideration.

As always, I would love to hear from you. I can be reached at the Capitol at (405) 557-7407.

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