State agencies respond to Governor’s early executive orders

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 5,365 views 

On her first two days in office in January, Gov. Sarah Sanders issued a number of executive orders for state agencies to provide reports to her within 30, 60 or 90 days.

A Talk Business & Politics review of three of the major executive orders finds that the Department of Education, Department of Transformation and Shared Services, and the Office of Inspector General completed these assignments within the window requested by the governor.

Inspector General Allison Bragg was tasked with reviewing all executive orders in effect or completed. Specifically, Sanders’ EO 23-03 requested reviews, analyses and recommendations related to executive orders, government overreach and bureaucracy throughout state government.

The report shows Sanders is hardly the first governor to utilize executive orders. The oldest executive order provided in the report is a singular order from former Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller to establish a code of ethics for public officials. That has subsequently been replaced by state law governing ethics for elected officials and state government employees.

Governors Dale Bumpers, David Pryor, Bill Clinton, Frank White, Jim Guy Tucker, Mike Huckabee, Mike Beebe and Asa Hutchinson utilized executive orders for a variety of purposes. Many were in response to disasters, but there are plenty that attended to COVID-19, cybersecurity in advance of Y2K, implementation of federal laws at the state level, and working groups charged with developing Arkansas legislation for consideration.

Then-Gov. Dale Bumpers used executive orders to create an affirmative action program in the state as well as an Arkansas Bikeways Commission. Clinton utilized executive orders to create the Keep Arkansas Beautiful Commission, implementing drug-free workplaces in state agencies, and to place moratoriums on state purchasing, travel and hiring.

Bragg found that many executive orders had been completed in their missions. Others were in conflict with state law or later EO’s, while state statutes had replaced some executive orders and were recommended for dissolution. You can read the full report here.

Another executive order calls for a review of materials and applications that could be subject to cybersecurity risks for state property, singling out China as a “foreign adversary that presents serious challenges to our values, our security, and our economy.” Sanders’ EO wanted a review of the information and communications systems of state entities to determine which devices and programs should be uninstalled or disconnected from state hardware, including TikTok, which former Gov. Asa Hutchinson already banned.

EO 23-06 was supervised by Edward Armstrong, director of the Office of State Procurement, and Jonathan Askins, director of the Division of Information Systems. These two divisions fall under the Department of Transformation and Shared Services.

“Initial review of relevant materials confirms that the risk of China and other foreign adversaries threatening the safety and security of the state of Arkansas through the state’s information systems, communications systems, procurement of technological products, and cyber services is real, not fully known, expanding, and evolving,” a memo dated April 6, 2023 stated.

The report noted that TikTok was clearly a threat to national security, but declared there are a number of undetermined applications that foreign adversaries could use to threaten safety and security.

“Because the threat is not fully known, a complete and final review of all relevant materials is impossible. Instead, the state will need to set up an ongoing process to monitor and respond to existing and emerging threats pursuant to an adaptive framework that is regularly reviewed and updated to be as responsive as reasonably possible,” the memo said. “This exceeds the combined capabilities of OSP and DIS.”

The two agencies suggest contracting with outside vendors to accomplish the executive order goals. You can read the full report here.

A third executive order that Sanders issued on her second day in office, January 11, 2023, outlined a number of directives for Secretary of Education Jacob Oliva to complete within 90 days.

The Department of Education website has posted many of the responses to the EO, which include:

Conducting a kindergarten-readiness analysis for Arkansas.
“While Arkansas is serving many children in early childhood programs that have been highly rated, too few children and families have access to early care and education, and many children are not entering kindergarten ready to learn. To achieve Arkansas’s early learning goals, the state must create a unified early childhood system. The LEARNS Act puts Arkansas on track to do this,” the report states.

Conducting a comprehensive review to ensure schools and districts are implementing the Arkansas Right to Read Act.
The report says “every student is receiving evidence-based literacy instruction with a curriculum aligned to the Science of Reading; and every teacher has received training in the science of reading.”

All Arkansas students are meeting the demands of today’s workforce.
The department says it will engage “third-party experts to conduct an annual audit of the state’s career pathways, the first of which shall be completed in no more than 180 days.” It also calls for identifying funding for “high-quality workforce apprenticeships” and “high-quality work-based learning workforce programs.”

Reward good teachers and create a strong teacher pipeline.
The department outlines it will spend the next 90 days completing a report that reviews educator licensure standards and fees and, within 90 days, the department will post on its website a “user-friendly, readable, and accessible list of alternative certification programs” for recruiting teachers.

You can access the Department of Education report related to the executive order at this link.