Oklahoma Chief Information Officer Disputes Health Executives' Claims to Investigative Committee

Feb 6, 2018

In a file photo, Oklahoma Chief Information Officer Bo Reese testifies before a U.S. Senate Committee about cybersecurity.
Credit Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee

State lawmakers on the House Special Investigative Committee questioned Oklahoma’s chief information officer on Tuesday.

With former health department executives’ complaints of high information technology costs and being pushed into costly projects in mind, Rep. Bobby Cleveland asked Bo Reese about his work with agencies.

"Agencies say that your agency offers no plan, that you come in there and just start doing things and you tell them what to do and you send them a bill. Is that factual?" Cleveland said.

"Nope. Not at all," Reese said. "We have lots of—"

"So, all the agencies are out of line but you?"

"Well, how many agencies are telling you that?" Reese said.

"I would say probably at least 20," Cleveland said.

"Well, I have a—"

"Well, no. I’ll back out of it," Cleveland said. "Probably 10."

"I have 111," Reese said.

Committee Chair Rep. Josh Cockroft moved the questioning to claims high IT costs and heavy-handedness from the Office of Management and Enterprise Services were partly to blame for the state health department running out of money.

Former health department COO Deborah Nichols told the House Special Investigative Committee in December the agency didn’t get to vet big-ticket IT projects. Reese said the health department had a standing committee to evaluate such things.

"What her involvement was with that group, I do not know, but by the time they decided they wanted to spend money on those projects, that’s when they would engage my office and we would engage them at that time," Reese said.

Former health department CFO Mike Romero estimated the agency spent $82 million dollars on IT in five years. Reese said one particular planning meeting did cost $31,000, but there were a lot of man-hours involved because the meeting was for a project with significant federal involvement.

"And so, to go spend the time to do that does cause cost, but the federal government wants to make sure that you’ve done your research," Reese said. "They want to make sure that you’re going to have a good plan, that you’ve got a roadmap for this product going forward before they spend any of their federal dollars on it."

Tuesday's committee meeting came after a Monday session that frustrated some lawmakers because Reese spent a significant portion of their limited time on background information, including his cybersecurity responsibilities and the history of state IT consolidation.

The committee reconvened so lawmakers could ask more pointed questions. It was interrupted several times by construction noise at the capitol, and Cockroft told Reese before adjourning the meeting he may send him additional, written questions.