State agencies must prove
worth or they will disappear
Into the Sunset
The agency review process conducted by the Sunset Advisory Commission is one of Texas' best tools for ensuring tax dollars are well-spent.
The Texas Sunset Act, created by the Legislature in 1977, created the commission to review more than 150 state agencies and decide if each should continue to exist. If so, the commission determines if the agency is operating efficiently and effectively. The commission recommends to the Legislature whether to abolish the agency or continue it with changes, and the Legislature decides the agency's future.
Time is up
Most agencies reviewed by the commission have an automatic date for abolition unless the Legislature passes legislation to continue them.
Some agencies, such as universities and courts, are not subject to the Sunset Act, and others, such as the Board of Pardons and Paroles and the Texas Railroad Commission, are subject to review but cannot be automatically abolished without legislation. Joey Longley, director of the commission, says those agencies can be abolished if the Legislature votes to do so.
Agencies are reviewed once every 12 years. In 2002, the commission will conduct 29 reviews.
The commission comprises 31 full-time staff and 10 commission members appointed from the Legislature and public. The lieutenant governor appoints four members of the Senate and one member of the public, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives appoints four members of the House and one member of the public. Legislative members serve the commission for four years, and public members serve for two years.
Every two years, the position of chair rotates between the Senate and House appointees. The current chair is Sen. Jane Nelson of Flower Mound. Nelson will rotate out as chair in 2003, and a House appointee will take over the position.
Hold 'em or fold 'em
The first step in the review process is the review itself. Commission staff perform the agency reviews, which take from three to eight months to complete. The commission considers a number of factors.
"You start with the fundamental question: Do we need [the agency] at all?" says Longley. If so, he says, the commission asks, "Are we doing the right thing, and are we doing it right?" Reviewers look to see if the agency duplicates public services or programs offered elsewhere and assess whether the agency's operations and activities are efficient and effective.
When the commission completes its review, it publishes a report of its findings and recommendations. The commission members then conduct a public hearing in which the staff discusses its recommendations and the public can comment on the agency under review, the report and the recommendations.
Based on the report and public comment, the commission develops its final recommendations for the Legislature. If it decides the agency should continue, the legislative members of the commission help draft the legislation needed to continue it and introduce and carry the bill in the legislative session.
The Legislature either enacts the legislation to continue the agency or allows it to automatically be abolished. If no legislation is passed, the agency has a one-year "wind-down" period to conclude its operations.
On the block
The 29 agencies currently under review will be considered by the 2003 Legislature. Consequently, all the current reviews must be completed by the end of 2002. Longley says reports will be released throughout the year from mid-February until mid-November, leaving sufficient time for public hearings.
The commission reviews similarly grouped agencies in the same year. The agencies reviewed for the 2003 Legislature are in the following categories: health and human services, education, the judiciary, public safety and criminal justice, business and economic development and regulatory agencies. Also, in the general government category, the commission will review the Ethics Commission, the Lottery Commission and the Texas Council on Purchasing from People with Disabilities.
In the commission's 25 years, the Legislature has abolished 44 agencies and consolidated another 11. Some of the abolished agencies include the Pink Bollworm Commission, the Poultry Improvement Board and the Texas Turnpike Authority. The commission itself is not subject to the Sunset Act, but it can be reviewed by the Legislature and was in 1993.
"We made some changes after the 1993 debate," Longley says. "We wanted to make sure the process was open and deliberative." He says that after that review, the commission improved the level of public input and increased its communication with interested parties, including the agencies under review and legislators. "The goal is to get ideas on the table," says Longley.
The commission estimates that the reviews conducted from 1982 through 2001 resulted in an extra $719.9 million for the state, partially from savings and partially from newly generated revenues. The commission spent $16.9 million during the same period, meaning for every dollar the commission spent, it generated $42.50 for the state.
Longley says that the commission has done more for the state than just generate dollars, though. The openness of government that the commission encourages by looking at how agencies work and providing a forum for public discussion is the commission's most valuable contribution.