Congressional Affairs Committee moves to revamp vacant OFPR

After months of discussion about the future of its Office of Fiscal Performance and Review, an Osage Nation Congressional committee voted to take action on moving forward to revamp the unoccupied audit-focused office.

On Jan. 18, the Congressional Affairs Committee voted unanimously to authorize its chairman (Second Congressional Speaker Joe Tillman) to start the process to advertise the long-vacant Chief Audit Officer position, which is in charge of the OFPR. The committee made the motion after voting to revise the position’s qualifications on the job description.

The OFPR is established in Osage law within the Legislative Branch and is charged with conducting various audits to provide “a systematic and objective examination and independent assessment of the performance and financial condition of the divisions, departments, programs, boards, commissions, bureaus and any other public entities of the Osage Nation.”

Congressman and committee member Archie Mason, who has served since the First ON Congress established OFPR, recalled the early years when discussion among his colleagues pertained to how the Congress would conduct their oversight responsibilities. That discussion led to OFPR’s establishment in 2006. “We deemed this (OFPR) necessary to comply with oversight duties,” Mason said.

Tillman read a history summary of OFPR, which was established amid debates and a tribal court lawsuit between then-Principal Chief Jim Gray and the Congress. Gray vetoed the original bill (ONCA 07-06) creating an internal audit department, which called for an audit committee consisting of two Congress members and the Assistant Principal Chief.

Citing concerns with the original bill’s language, Gray issued a Dec. 7, 2006 veto message stating: “I agree with the need to establish an independent internal auditing department within the Executive Branch of government. With members of Congress sitting on the directing Audit Committee, however, the bill violates Article V, Section 2 of the Osage Nation Constitution… Let me be clear. I believe members of Congress directing staff within the Executive Branch is a violation of the separation of powers.”

The First ON Congress voted to override Gray’s veto prompting a lawsuit between the branches. The lawsuit was eventually dismissed by John Red Eagle after he was sworn in as Principal Chief in 2010. In the meantime, the Legislative Branch hired staff for the OFPR that was created by legislative amendments, which included housing it within the Legislative Branch.

Kelly Corbin held the Chief Audit Officer position for 10 years until June 2017 when he left to become the Bluestem Ranch manager for five months and then as interim CEO for the Nation’s Tallgrass Economic Development LLC until February 2018. After Corbin’s departure, two remaining workers also left, leaving OFPR vacant for nearly a year, prompting the on and off discussions in the Congressional Affairs Committee on how to reestablish the office with employees.

During Corbin’s tenure, he and OFPR staff conducted several audits of the ON Executive Branch departments, boards and village committees that raised questions on government spending, policy and procedure practices and other issues and suggestions for addressing OFPR findings.

Tillman read parts of the current law establishing OFPR as the committee members shared comments for reestablishing the OFPR with staff starting with the Chief Audit Officer position.

Congressman Eli Potts noted the Congress passed an OFPR budget for the 2019 fiscal year leading to a continuation of the discussion. Congressional Budget Analyst Meghan Snead (hired after predecessor Potts was elected to Congress in the 2018 election) told the committee there is a budgeted $206,000 for the OFPR.

After the last OFPR staff departures, its rented Sixth Street office in Pawhuska was vacated and led to the question of where staff would be stationed after hire. Congresswoman Paula Stabler suggested the next OFPR staff could utilize vacant space upstairs in the ON Capitol Building.

Potts said the budgeted $206,000 could be used to either hire staff or to contract the position if needed. After more committee discussion, the members passed a motion to amend the Chief Audit Officer position stating the hired person may have a bachelor’s degree in accounting, public administration or related field; have a minimum of five years of government auditing or accounting experience, and a certification in accounting or a master’s degree is preferred.

Congressional Affairs Committee members are Tillman (chairman), Angela Pratt (vice chair), Scott BigHorse (absent that day), Mason and Potts.   

Also that day, the committee voted unanimously to authorize Tillman to begin the preplanning as necessary toward relocating the Congressional Office into a future permanent home on the ON government campus. In 2017, the Congressional Office relocated to the Nation-owned former First National Bank building (now renamed the Capitol Building) along Pawhuska’s Main Street after its previous location in the Chambers building needed remediation work due to black mold discovery.