NORMAN — Change is a simple word that is usually met with universal resistance. Though by nature we are no doubt creatures of change, many of us evolve into creatures of habit as we become comfortable in our routines. This is even more true in government where “the way we have always done it” typically prevails aided by vested interests who work to insure the status quo.
Fortunately at the state treasury, a dedicated and hardworking staff has embraced constant change for the last 30 months as we continually challenged every aspect of our operation. We have eliminated non-core functions, consolidated our physical plant, modernized information systems, and greatly increased our productivity all while reducing our staff and budget.
The treasury area faced with the greatest challenge has been the unclaimed property division. After the discovery of an ongoing embezzlement scheme just six months into my administration, normal operations gave way to strengthening internal policies and procedures as well as assisting investigations, prosecutions and convictions of wrongdoers.
Recognizing the value of an independent review of those policies and procedures, my office sought the expertise of one our states’ foremost authorities on financial controls to further enhance our ability to continue meeting our fiduciary responsibilities.
The just completed audit found that adequate controls are currently in place but did offer suggestions for improvement. Those suggested changes, and many others, will be immediately implemented so we can build on our recent successes.
Astonishingly, given the legal and audit distractions of the last two years, the treasury’s unclaimed property division set back-to-back records for money returned, reaching an all-time high of $16 million for the 2013 fiscal year!
Even so, after months of preparation, we at treasury are excited to unveil “Unclaimed Property 2.0”. Today the unclaimed property division has a new location, a fresh marketing campaign, and an innovative compensation program, all designed to meet our objective of getting more money back into the hands of rightful owners.
Unclaimed property is now fully operational in its new home on the second floor of the State Capitol building. The move eliminates rental expenses, promotes cross-utilization of staff and provides an easily identifiable and convenient location for property owners.
In addition to our current attempts to inform the public, this month we begin supplementing those efforts with new branding across multiple media outlets. Due to the hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans with unclaimed property and the high cost of employing heir finders, mass media is the more cost-effective method of reuniting most rightful owners with their property. All media cost will be paid from unclaimed property monies and not taxpayer dollars.
Because people respond to incentives, we have injected private-sector principles into our reunification efforts. To help meet our objective of increasing dollars returned, unclaimed property staff compensation is now based on performance; more dollars returned means more dollars earned. This groundbreaking, results-oriented approach is well suited for a state serious about returning unclaimed property.
We at the state treasury are excited to implement these changes as part of our ongoing efforts to improve the efficiency and productivity of our operations for the benefit of all Oklahomans.