State Watchdog Criticizes Oklahoma CARES Act Spending

Feb 4, 2021

A legislative watchdog has issued a report that’s highly critical of how Gov. Kevin Stitt’s administration spent millions of dollars of federal coronavirus relief.

The Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency, or LOFT, issued a draft report Wednesday night that criticizes the Stitt administration’s CARES Forward entity for incomplete documentation and spending on pre-existing needs like government modernization.

Stitt’s former Budget Secretary Mike Mazzei and Chief Operating Officer John Budd responded with a lengthy statement calling the report "an agenda-driven exercise."

Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat authored the 2019 legislation that established LOFT. He was asked about its report at a Thursday afternoon media briefing.

"We’ll digest it. We’ll get through it. I saw the response. I was disappointed in some of the language of the response but also have deep respect for those gentlemen, and we look forward to trying to get to the bottom of it," Treat said.

The LOFT report says several projects CARES Act funds were spent on may not meet federal standards for necessary expenses to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. It goes on to say CARES Forward missed opportunities to address other needs with the $1.26 billion at its disposal, like bolstering Oklahoma’s unemployment trust fund or investing in testing and contact tracing to limit spread of the coronavirus.

"Any time you accept federal money, there’s going to be audits eventually. And so, I hope and trust that the executive branch did their due diligence and have justifications they can lay out for those, but time will tell," Treat said.

A Thursday hearing on the bipartisan, bicameral group’s report was canceled because Budd could not attend.

The governor’s office told the AP it respects legislative oversight and plans to continue working with lawmakers.