Gaining Ground

State Government in Transition

Not every effort to improve public performance in the past four years has stemmed from TPR. Far from it. Anyone who doubts state government's regenerative powers need only give a cursory glance to some of Texas' efforts to improve public performance since 1991, and a few slated to get underway in the months ahead.

The thicket of environmental regulatory programs has been trimmed back and gathered into a single state agency, the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, providing businesses and citizens with one-stop shopping. The Department of Commerce and State Auditor's Office are also preparing a plan to reengineer the state's business permitting practices, keeping in mind that conservation must be made fully compatible with economic growth for Texas to remain both environmentally clean and financially competitive in the years ahead.

With strong support from the Governor, the Smart Jobs Fund has created an incentives-based system to match work force training programs with the needs of new and expanding Texas industries. Meanwhile, five overlapping state advisory councils have been abolished and replaced by the Council on Workforce and Economic Competitiveness, an important first step toward developing the human resources to help Texas compete in emerging world markets -- and one that will be expanded upon in a series of recommendations later in this report.

The Department of Health has implemented a far-reaching immunization program designed to shield all Texas children under the age of 18 from easily preventable diseases. And the Commission on Children and Youth will soon submit to state leaders proposals for improving a wide range of public programs for children.

The Alternative Fuels Council, which began operations just over one year ago, has already made substantial progress in promoting the use of different fuels, providing loans and grants to businesses to convert their vehicles or equipment to natural gas and other cheaper, clean-burning, renewable energy sources.

The Office of Small Business Administration has been transferred to the General Services Commission, where it's now part of that agency's efforts to ensure that contractors and other small business folks have an equal opportunity to participate in public works projects. The Comptroller is also conducting a sweeping disparity study to address the issue of state contracts with historically underutilized businesses.

Incentives for public school districts to offer college advanced placement courses have just gone into effect. Through equipment grants, bonuses and teacher training subsidies, the Advanced Placement Incentive Program (pro-posed in Against the Grain) is saving taxpayer dollars by making it possible for students to complete their studies according to their own schedules, not some arbitrary timetable established in Austin.

The Department of Information Resources, General Services and the Comptroller's office have developed a comprehensive strategy for placing Texas squarely in the Information Age. The plan calls for using the latest telecommunications technology to improve state government's customer service and keep it cost-efficient. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board is also using telecommunications innovations to beam college courses and educational programs into underserved areas of the state.