State audit of tourism department reveals shoddy record-keeping, retaliation concerns

OKLAHOMA CITY - Tourism is big business in Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department runs all of the state parks, travel campaigns and the film and music office on a $70 million a year budget.

For months, the Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector's Office has been going over operations at the agency.

The audit report just went public, highlighting some areas the agency could improve.

According to Auditor Inspector Gary Jones, the audit was requested by Governor Mary Fallin, prompted by a change in leadership at the agency.

The 15-page report reveals concerns about accountability, whistle-blower retaliation and shoddy record-keeping at the department.

"Our job it to point these things out, so they can do their job better," Jones said.

According to a state survey referenced in the audit report, 15 to 39 percent of tourism employees surveyed reported "an atmosphere of mistrust and poor communications."

They responded to the survey "employees are treated unfairly, and favoritism exists."

The audit shows one deputy director also serves as legal counsel and a deputy secretary.

Employees told inspectors they don't know who is actually in charge.

Another area of concern is an incomplete inventory of records and assets, including at least three missing firearms, often used by park rangers on the job.

"You know, it's not like you have a typewriter missing. It's an item you need to keep track of," Jones said. "This is the closing of the barn door before the cows get out as opposed to wishing they heck you'd closed the door."

The agency met with inspectors several times during the course of the audit.

However, spokesperson Leslie Blair said directors were "surprised" when the audit was released.

Tourism has agreed to fix the problems with record-keeping to better protect state dollars.

The agency has agreed to more safeguards and accountability per audit recommendations.

"In the course of business, frankly, we got lazy," Blair said. "We haven't been doing these inventory audits like we should have. We can't look back. But, going forward, we'll do a better job with that."

The tourism department includes properties in 40 different locations all around Oklahoma.

The agency recently added a permanent HR position.

They believe that will help with compliance.

According to the audit, the tourism office currently has no internal auditor.

The position that's been unfilled for years, according to Jones.

However, funding for the internal audit position has been approved, and directors at the agency have been asked to fill the position by October 1st.