OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – State auditors will soon begin an investigation into the Oklahoma Department of Health at the attorney general’s request regarding the expenditure of federal pandemic stimulus funds.
On Tuesday, Attorney General Mike Hunter sent a request to the Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector for the investigation. It’s related to how the State spent money the federal government sent solely for COVID-19 related costs.
In March, the federal CARES Act committed $150 billion to states and tribes through the Coronavirus Relief Fund. Oklahoma as a whole received $1.534 billion.
Officials with the governor’s office said Oklahoma County, Oklahoma City, and Tulsa County received some of that money directly because their populations exceed 500,000. The State’s share is about $1.26 billion.
So far, the attorney general has not revealed what spurred the request.
Oklahoma State Auditor Cindy Byrd said she has a meeting with Hunter next week to discuss the focus of the audit request.
“I can’t presume to know why the attorney general’s office decides when or when not to request an audit,” Byrd said. “We have never conducted an audit for them that didn’t merit the time and attention spent on it.”
Under the CARES Act, the money can only be used on expenditures that became necessary in response to COVID-19 between March 1, 2020 and December 30, 2020. They cannot be used for anything that was already accounted for in the budget most recently approved as of March 27, 2020. A spokesperson for the governor estimates so far, the state has allocated about 10% of the money received.
Governor Stitt’s solution task force is already under scrutiny after spending $2 million on Hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug that has not been proven to be effective against the virus.
“I was being proactive and to try to protect Oklahomans,” Stitt said during a press conference Tuesday, “and so that’s always going to be my first instinct to get the equipment and the things that we need I’m seeing for a future, that would help Oklahomans.”
In response to the attorney general’s audit request, Stitt said in a statement,
“In light of Congress providing Oklahoma with $1.2 billion in funds to respond to COVID-19, my administration arranged a few weeks ago a strategic financial team of public employees to closely monitor COVID-related transactions and to be prepared to account for every penny to Congress and the federal government. It is disappointing that the Attorney General would see the need to entangle the agency with an investigation when it is in the midst of responding to the most historic pandemic of our time. I fully expect quick and thorough compliance as we have already put strong reporting requirements in place.”
Oklahoma Commissioner of Health Gary Cox also responded with a statement saying,
“The Oklahoma State Health Department has been committed to full transparency with COVID information and the Stitt administration’s proactive efforts to protect Oklahomans from the novel COVID-19 virus. “Every step of the way, the agency has been above board and quick to provide information, where legally able, on our transactions to anyone who asks, and we are confident the financial review will demonstrate our efforts for excellence to protect public health. OSDH is prepared to comply and provide any and all information requested by State Auditor Cindy Byrd and her staff.”
Byrd said she has assigned a team to begin the investigation next week.