By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2018, The Oklahoman
I recently had the opportunity to meet Gov.-elect Kevin Stitt, his campaign manager, Aamon Ross, and a handful of other Oklahomans with diverse backgrounds who are passionate about the future of our state. I had never met our soon-to-be governor, and, frankly, I was impressed.
I could not help but think about the similarities between Stitt’s path to state service and mine 16 years ago. Like him, I was running a business and had never been involved in state government or politics. When my best friend (Brad Henry) got elected governor, I answered the call. I saw it as a chance to make a positive difference in our state’s future.
As someone who transitioned from running a company to state service, I learned some very important lessons. I often hear people say the state should be run like a business. State government can benefit from the implementation of principles from business, but it is something fundamentally different.
Unlike a business, a state has no profit motive; it exists to deliver services to its population. It has no shareholders; instead, it has consumers of its services who do not pay directly for those services. Although I feel our state is always competing against other states and countries, like every other state, Oklahoma is a monopoly with no real competitors in its geographic territory.
When I first came to state government, I believed the state was made up of one guy digging the ditch while four watched. I found the opposite to be true. State employees at all levels take what are oftentimes much lower paying jobs than they can get in the private sector because they are passionate about the people they serve. Just spend a few minutes speaking to Terri White, Mike Carolina, Joy Hofmeister, or any of a number of other state agency heads, and you will see immediately what I mean.
Over the past five-plus years, these dedicated professionals have worked to serve the needs of their constituencies while their budgets have been eviscerated with cuts of up to 35 percent or more, which has left them unable to meet the needs they are tasked with serving.
My guess is that our governor-elect heard loud and clear from the electorate during this campaign season as to the many impacts of these cuts.
I was dismayed at how partisanship affects decision-making at the governance levels of our state. In business, we don’t hire people, divide them into two teams and then task the two teams to wage a never-ending fight for control of our organization.
Unfortunately, with partisan politics, that is exactly how state government often works, at least at the elected official level.
The barriers to change are deep. The status quo has amazing momentum. One area of gain is perceived as another area of loss which leads to a perpetual zero-sum game, even when meaningful change is attempted.
If we are going to excel as a state and government is going to serve our population better, some simple principles from business need to be adopted, no matter how hard.
What business does very well that government does not is understand how to manage costs. If shared services like human resources, IT, procurement and other administrative services could be implemented across government, the millions of dollars saved could be passed on to the consumers of education, health care, public safety, and other government services. Any successful business person understands this fundamental principal. The art comes in implementing it in state government.
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state support from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology and is an integral part of Oklahoma’s Innovation Model. Contact Meacham at [email protected].