The next time you’re at a Mizzou game and you want a real quick test to see if someone actually understands state government, ask them what is the most difficult job in the entire Missouri bureaucracy. If they give you any answer other than the job of Commissioner of the Office of Administration, they failed your test.
The job is so expansive that it’s really hard to explain all of the facets of it. The best way I can think to explain it is: All of the stuff the governor says that the state is doing, well, the OA commissioner is actually in charge of doing that stuff.
Every contact of significance goes through that office. Every state employee wage issue has to be dealt with by that office. There really isn’t much that the state does that an email or a piece of paper doesn’t pass through Room 125 on the first floor of the Capitol.
No one did the job as professionally and competently, and in more troubled waters, than the outgoing commissioner, Sarah Steelman.
Normally, when someone leaves a post with the plaudits and fanfare from her contemporaries that Sarah Steelman is currently receiving, then they would have had to inherit a mess from their predecessor.
That was not the case here. Sarah Steelman inherited an incredibly well-run operation from Gov. Jay Nixon’s OA Commissioner Doug Nelson. If you want some insight as to why Doug Nelson’s reputation in the lobbying community has risen faster and higher than anyones I can remember in such a short period of time, it’s maybe because he had to learn every detail about every function of state government in his previous position.
No, Sarah Steelman inherited a well-run operation, and she would go on to need all of that operations capacity to handle what was maybe the most challenging five years the state bureaucracy has endured in the last 150.
I’m not gonna detail her resume for you. If you’re reading this, you should already know she was a leading state senator, state treasurer, professor — and all while having the more than full-time job of keeping David Steelman out of trouble.
She was appointed to the position during former Gov. Greitens’ handful of months in office and was quickly and easily confirmed. In fact, it was her nomination that gave a lot of folks pause to consider the concept that maybe Greitnes actually cared about running the state. Look, one person can only do so much.
She had to deal with the off-payroll consultants attempting to chime in, the secret texting apps with communications on platforms she wasn’t on, and the general chaos that the former governor seemed to enjoy during those few weeks in office.
Maybe more impressively, of the dozens of scandals that hit the Greitens administration, there was never a scandal about how the state let and approved contracts. Now, I heard about more than one person attempting to influence that process and being quite frustrated when she rebuffed them, but she would never confirm any of that to me. However, the scoreboard of no procurement scandals in an administration rife with scandals stands out.
It did become public that as Greitens was heading out the door, he tried to stiff the state with his legal bills from mistreating that woman. She shut him down and said she was going to have to ask a judge for permission to pay them. Can you imagine how tough it must have been to tell the governor who appointed you no to that?
She is tougher than you think — and even if you think she is pretty tough, she is still tougher than you think.
With the backdrop of the Greitens’ fiasco, she worked with the legislature and Capitol Commission on renovating the State Capitol. While there is no question that former Sen. Ron Richard was the man who, by sheer force of will, renovated the Capitol, it was Sarah Steelman who made sure the project was on budget and on time.
Gov. Mike Parson was sworn in this past January on the steps of a beautifully renovated state Capitol, and Sarah Steelman can tell you where every penny was spent on every brick of that building.
That project, and all of state government, ran into a challenge that no one could have predicted in a virus now known as the COVID-19 pandemic. This made not only procurement a challenge, but it made just the basics of providing a place for state employees to work challenging.
However, the state got on with the work and now has more options to serve Missourians from their homes than ever and serve the state in their offices safer than ever. And every mask, laptop, pair of gloves, and remote network was procured from her office.
Moreover, you can now find out pretty much exactly where your state tax dollars are spent from a website she was in charge of at: budgetexplorer.mo.gov.
Not a bad day’s work.
I have no idea what she will do next — besides continuing her yeoman’s work of keeping David out of trouble — but I reckon it will be something fun that most likely improves the state of Missouri in some way.
So if you see the native Jeff Citian over at Barvino or at a Mizzou game do your part because, you, me, and around 6 million other Missourians all owe her a beer.
Scott Faughn is the publisher of The Missouri Times, owner of the Clayton Times in Clayton; SEMO Times in Poplar Bluff; and host of the only statewide political television show, This Week in Missouri Politics.