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OK cabinet member In a hurry to bring change

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David Ostrowe, Oklahoma's aecretary of digital transformation and administration
David Ostrowe, Oklahoma's aecretary of digital transformation and administration

One of the more interesting storylines to follow during Gov. Kevin Stitt’s first term will be that of David Ostrowe, who serves as secretary of digital transformation and administration. In short: Can he succeed, in a short amount of time, in bringing private-sector ideas to state government?

The Oklahoman’s Dale Denwalt wrote recently about Ostrowe’s efforts to make the government more user friendly for taxpayers. One comment from Ostrowe stuck out.

“What surprises me is the level of talent, high level of talent that’s been beaten down over the years and been told, ‘No, no, no, no, no, you cannot, you shall not,’” Ostrowe said. “We’re telling the opposite.”

The observation isn’t surprising, or shouldn’t be. Governments of all sizes — local, state, federal — become entrenched in a “We’ve always done it this way” mindset that can seem impossible to upend. This helps explain, for example, why state agencies in Oklahoma don’t all use the same computer programs (in some departments, these programs are decades old and still in use).

You want inertia? Government is what you’re looking for.

Ostrowe, however, is charged with moving that boulder and the sooner, the better. The president of O&M Restaurant Group in Oklahoma City, which includes fast-food franchises such as Burger King, he signed on to the cabinet position for just two years.

“The last thing I need is a commission. That’s a two-year delay,” Ostrowe said. For niche projects, “… if it’s legal, give it to me on a napkin. I don’t need a year’s worth of work for us to make a decision.”

Denwalt noted that Ostrowe and John Budd, director of the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, have cut the length of time it takes for agencies to receive a new computer — they can now buy their own instead of having to order one through OMES.

Ostrowe has lined up a contract to beta-test digital driver’s licenses. His to-do list also includes such things as digital car titles, establishing credit card payments at state parks, mobile time clocks for mobile state employees, creating an app-based portal for state services such as getting a hunting permit, and crafting an improved website that tracks how taxpayer dollars are spent.

Ostrowe says projects aren’t considered if they don’t have the potential to make Oklahoma a top-10 state, something the governor has preached. Potential solutions must be scalable, intuitive, forward-facing and pay for themselves.

In an interview soon after starting the job in January, Ostrowe noted the slower pace of government compared with the private sector, and said the fact most agencies work for commissions instead of the governor can be frustrating. In some cases, the law can get in the way of a potential change.

But Ostrowe seems committed to effecting real change. He described his approach this way: “Let’s run fast and not break any laws.” We wish him good luck.

The Oklahoman Editorial Board

The Oklahoman Editorial Board consists of Kelly Dyer Fry, Publisher, Editor and Vice President of News; Owen Canfield, Opinion Editor; and Ray Carter, Chief Editorial Writer.. To submit a letter to the editor, go to this page or email... Read more ›

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