Audit cites woes for American Indian Cultural Center and Museum
BY BARBARA HOBEROCK World Capitol Bureau
Thursday, October 18, 2012
10/18/12 at 7:25 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY - An audit found multiple problems with efforts to create a multimillion-dollar American Indian Cultural Center and Museum, which has now been mothballed due to lack of funding.
State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones on Wednesday released the performance audit of the Native American Cultural and Educational Authority, which oversees construction of the center and museum. Gov. Mary Fallin requested the audit of the facility, which was being built in Oklahoma City.
To date, the facility received about $97 million in state funds, nearly $15.7 million in federal dollars and $8 million from other sources. The figures do not include $40 million in pledges if the state agrees to match it with another $40 million.
Lawmakers last session balked at a proposed bond issue to finish the center.
The audit found that the board picked the most expensive proposal for a world-class facility without a commitment for funding.
"The board chose the most expensive of six proposals presented by its architect," Jones said. "They decided to build a $169 million facility when only $5 million in funding had been secured. Throughout the years, although additional funding was not forthcoming, the board maintained its commitment to the most expensive plan."
Project cost options initially ranged from $53.5 million to $136.1 million, but the board approved a budget plan of $169 million, the audit found.
"Adherence to the vision is an indicator of the overall unreasonable expectations and inadequate planning of the board," the audit said. "Inconsistent funding, disregard for best practices, and inadequate board and staff expertise have negatively impacted the project as well.
"Moreover, the Legislature exhibited its share of unreasonable expectations and inadequate planning in creating a project of such a scale, entrusting it to a board lacking the necessary experience, and not demonstrating long-term dedication to the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum."
Due to the board and staff's lack of experience, the board spent more than $18.7 million on multiple consultants, the audit said.
"The scale of the project combined with the lack of relevant experience of the board and staff should have warranted a significant level of legislative involvement," something which did not occur, the audit found.
The Native American Cultural and Educational Authority's fundraising efforts before 2012 appear to have produced minimal returns, raising only $8.3 million, the audit said.
Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, said the audit vindicated critics who did not want to provide further debt-financing for the project.
"This project is the epitome of government waste and demonstrates how easy it is for government officials to spend other people's money," Anderson said. "The leadership of this project has failed miserably, and their failure does not deserve to be rewarded with additional state funding."
Gov. Mary Fallin's office issued a statement on the audit saying "the NACEA has begun to correct many of the issues addressed in the audit.
"Moving forward, it is important for the Legislature, NACEA leadership and all stakeholders to work together to ensure that this project, which the state began seven years ago, is completed and can open as quickly as possible to attracting visitors and earning revenue," the statement said.
"The governor continues to feel that a half-built facility on prime location that taxpayers are still paying for is a wasted opportunity to enhance tourism and economic development. The state needs to look at all possible ways to complete it."
Blake Wade, NACEA executive director, said he was delighted with the audit, adding that it found no financial problems, which is very important to the center's future.
"It is costing me $52,000 a month to mothball it," Wade said. "I am ready to get going with this next legislative session to match the $40 million we have raised privately to meet our opening date of December 2014."
Native American Cultural and Educational Authority
1994: Senate Bill 746 creates the authority and provides for the creation of the board. Appointments are made. Design and planning team selected. Concept development begins. Site investigation and selection process begins.
1996: NACEA begins to get state appropriations for operations.
1998: Site selected. Legislation authorizes a $5 million bond.
2003: Legislation authorizes a $33 million bond.
2005: The city of Oklahoma City donates the site land to the state.
2006: Construction begins.
2008: Legislation authorizes a $25 million bond.
2012: Construction suspended pending additional funding.
Original Print Headline: Audit cites woes for OKC museum
Barbara Hoberock 405-528-2465
The entrance at Eastern Avenue shows the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City on Wednesday. PAUL B. SOUTHERLAND/The Oklahoman