Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Speaker Kris Steele pleased with new DHS commissioners

OKLAHOMA CITY – House Speaker Kris Steele today expressed optimism that the new appointees to the Oklahoma Commission for Human Services will help change the course of the Department of Human Services, the agency the commission oversees.

Gov. Mary Fallin today appointed Wes Lane and Brad Yarbrough to the nine-member commission.

Speaker Kris Steele
“The newest DHS commissioners have relevant experience working with children and are passionate people who will bring a much-needed new perspective to the commission,” said Steele, R-Shawnee. “Through these appointments, Governor Fallin has shown a strong commitment to improving DHS. I commend the governor for her careful attention to ensuring that Oklahoma’s most vulnerable citizens are being served in an effective manner.”

With new commissioners in place, Steele said the commission needs to take a more active oversight role over the agency.

“It’s time that the commission end its practice of protecting the status quo and instead act as the conscientious, engaged watchdog it was designed to be,” Steele said. “I am confident the commission’s newest members will help the commission take a reform-minded approach to their important duties.”

Steele called on the new commission to conduct two specific duties: A performance review of the agency director and an organizational review of the agency.

According to information provided to the Speaker’s Office by DHS commissioners, the DHS Commission has not given the director a performance review since 2004 despite commission bylaws that require an annual performance review of the director.

“Performance reviews are important to good governance because they reveal to agency leadership what they are doing well and where improvements are needed,” Steele said.

The commission also has not conducted a formal organizational review of the agency in at least the past decade despite commission bylaws that require organizational reviews every three years, according to the information from the DHS commissioners.

“DHS faces some very real organizational challenges that need to be addressed,” Steele said. “With the agency’s employee count down drastically due to budget cuts, it’s time to give the agency a top-to-bottom review and reorganize if needed. The agency’s commission must be a partner in this process.”

Steele said he is also concerned that the commission has not taken an active enough role into learning more about circumstances surrounding the deaths of children who come into contact with the agency, as well as other issues.

According to a report by the Oklahoma Commission on Children and Youth, DHS received 430 complaints of abuse and neglect in the time leading up to and surrounding the deaths or near deaths of 82 Oklahoma children between 2008 and 2009 – an average of more than five complaints per child. The commission’s report focused on children in state custody as well as children not in state custody.

“Data and continued sub-par results show something in the DHS system is flawed. It’s time that the commission in charge of the agency implements better accountability and transparency,” Steele said. “To my knowledge, the commission is rarely, if ever, briefed on the deaths of children who come into contact with DHS. That’s unacceptable and I trust it will change soon.”

Concerns about the effectiveness of the agency and its commission have grown in recent months due to continued deaths of children in and out of agency custody and multiple law enforcement inquiries into commission and agency activities.

“The new commissioners inherit a tough situation. My hope is that the commission and agency will work in a concerted effort to identify positive solutions,” Steele said.

Steele continued: “The Legislature stands ready to assist DHS by gathering information, identifying best practices and developing policies that better protect and serve the state’s most vulnerable citizens. I look forward to working with DHS leadership, employees and its commissioners in this process.”
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