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Mazzei Minute: 02/11/21

“We’re from the government and we’re here to help!”

At these words you had better run for cover, as Ronald Reagan used to warn. There are a few exceptions, however, and I can tell you with confidence that there are many exceptional employees that are talented and committed to the public good.

One of the true highlights of my many years of a public service career was leading the day-to-day operations of the amazing CARES FORWARD team, who was responsible for distributing $1.2 billion in federal funds approved by Congress. With my friend and colleague COO John Budd, we had to launch and then run basically a full, scale major business operation with an original federally mandated deadline to finish work within 8 months. Fortunately, the work was immensely successful as we delivered over 8,000 grants to struggling small business owners and over 500 grants to bolster safety practices at long term care centers. We distributed over $230 million to cities and counties as they wrestled with their own COVID-19 expenses. We also helped over 2,600 Oklahomans avoid eviction from their homes. These funds also allowed Oklahoma to deliver PPE into every public school and to become one of the early States to offer free COVID testing in every county.

The CARES FORWARD team of public employees that I worked with have a history as budget analysts, auditors, financial experts, and more. We met on a daily basis, collaborated across multiple agencies as well as hundreds of cities and counties, stayed in constant communication with the Congressional delegation, and briefed 20 members of the State legislature twice a month, every month. We welcomed input and sought feedback before significant decisions were made. Our mission was centered on transparency and accountability, and soon the State Auditor’s office will begin her federally required duty to audit these funds. We welcome her professional scrutiny.

While this process occurs, I encourage you to review the distribution of CARES funds on the transparency portal we built at Caresact.ok.gov . I look forward to your thoughts and to answering any questions you may have about how this process worked.