June 9, 2008

From the desk of Rep. Allen Vaught

Watching the Sun Set in Texas: State Government and Accountability

Texas follows a unique process in the ongoing effort to provide efficiency and effectiveness in state government. The Sunset Advisory Commission is responsible for the regular assessment of Texas state agencies, examining each to eliminate waste, duplication of services, and inefficiency.

As with all matters related to democracy, this process thrives with public participation. Take a moment to learn about Sunset and how your comments can influence how well your government works for you.

Basically, each state agency in Texas must justify its existence every twelve years. The legislature either renews or dissolves an agency through passage of Sunset legislation based upon recommendations of the Commission.

The Commission is comprised of twelve members, (five senators, five representatives, and two members of the public), appointed by the Lieutenant Governor and the Speaker of the House. A staff assists the Commission members by conducting an in-depth examination of the agencies under review.

The Sunset process began in 1977, and oversees approximately 130 agencies. A few exceptions exist in the form of courts and universities. Also, constitutionally created agencies, such as the Teacher Retirement System and the Board of Pardons and Paroles, may be reviewed but not abolished.

How the Process Works
The staff of the Commission works with each agency under review to evaluate the need for the agency. As part of the review, each agency performs a self-review to identify its own problem and success areas. Sunset staff extensively interviews the reviewed agency’s employees for insight into daily operations. Additionally, input from interest groups and professional organizations related to the reviewed agency is solicited.

The Sunset staff then publishes a report proposing statutory or management changes and develops legislation necessary to enact any changes. The entire review generally takes three to eight months, depending upon the size and complexity of the agency.

Public Input
Once the Sunset staff report is published, the Commissioners hold public hearings. At this time, the Sunset staff presents its recommendations and the reviewed agency has the opportunity to formally respond to the recommendations. The public may then comment on the report and offer additional input regarding policy related to the agency.

How You May Participate
The public provides valuable information concerning agency performance during the hearing portion of the review process. The Sunset staff reports are available for inspection on the Commission’s website and are accessible at http://www.sunset.state.tx.us/ . The public may comment in person at the Commission hearings or submit written testimony. Later, a second chance for public comment arises during the legislative session when the bills to either continue or abolish an agency move through the legislative process.

Who’s Under Review?
Agencies are reviewed in a staggered fashion. Those whose fate will be determined during the 2009 legislative session include:

Texas Department of Agriculture Texas Department of Insurance
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Texas Department of Public Safety
Texas Racing Commission Texas Residential Construction Commission
Texas Department of Transportation Texas Youth Commission

The public hearing schedule for the reviewed agencies may be accessed at http://www.sunset.state.tx.us/meetingsch2008.pdf

If you have questions about the Sunset Advisory Commission and the agency review process, please contact my district office at 214-370-8305.

Sources: Guide to the Sunset Process, Texas Sunset Advisory Commission Staff