DHS Reaction Sends Chilling Message
I’ve talked to some state workers who are concerned that a state information technologist was escorted away from his job by an armed guard Monday and placed on leave after sending out an email complaining about the amount of money the Oklahoma Department of Human Services was spending on a new logo and rebranding efforts.
The gist of their concern is this: Even if the state employee, identified in a NewsOK.com story as Office of Management and Enterprise Services worker David Porta, was wrong in his claims, which hasn’t necessarily been proven, state officials overreacted. This overreaction, in particular, could send a chilling message to DHS employees concerned new director Ed Lake and other agency leaders are autocratic and won’t allow employees to voice opinions and concerns without retribution. In essence, there were better ways to handle the situation, I was told. DHS administrators chose a draconian method.
On Friday, according to the NewsOK.com story, Porta sent out an email to some state legislators and The Oklahoman that complained DHS was spending “thousands, no probably tens of thousands of dollars” on a new logo, pictured right, and to rebrand. Porta, a former DHS worker, now works for OMES, a relatively new agency created to centralize and consolidate state technology services. On Monday, DHS leaders opted to deny Porta access to any DHS projects and to leave the DHS Data Services Building because of the email. Apparently, he was escorted from the building by an armed guard of some sort. He was then placed on administrative leave.
A DHS official was adamant that the rebranding effort was going to cost “next to nothing” because it was getting done in-house, but the employees I talked to pointed out the agency also was unable to provide an actual cost for the project. Does Porta actually have a point? Were his claims actually accurate? Why are DHS officials so defensive about the issue?
There’s also some agreement with Porta that any amount of money spent on rebranding efforts or other public relation “appearance” projects beyond direct outreach to vulnerable clients is a waste of money by a chronically underfunded state agency. Most state workers have not had a pay raise in several years.
The bottom line is that if Porta’s claims were wrong, something we still don’t know, then he should have been simply informed of it and asked to check his facts carefully before taking his complaints outside of his workplace. I’m not defending the accuracy of Porta’s claims, but this is a freedom of speech issue, and the DHS response sends a message to all state workers about the cost of speaking up about perceived waste of taxpayer money. That’s not good for Oklahoma.