• April 26, 2011




This week, in the Texas House, at least three more state agencies are seeking the necessary votes in the House in order to continue their existence for approximately twelve more years. Three agencies, up for sunset, are the Texas Forest Service, the Railroad Commission of Texas, and the Texas Department of Transportation.

The sunset review process is an important component in maintaining a slender state government in Texas. In 1977, the Texas Legislature created the Sunset Advisory Commission to identify and eliminate waste, duplication, and inefficiency in the states government agencies. In order to maintain an efficient and fiscally responsive government, state agencies are required to undergo this sunset review process approximately every twelve years. Once the sunset review process is done, state agencies are then required to be approved by the Texas Legislature in order to continue functioning.

The first agency up this week is the Texas Forest Service (TFS). The TFS was established nearly 100 years ago under the Texas A&M University System. The agency has always been responsible for forest resource management and wildland firefighting. But in the last 20 years, TFS has been directed to perform those duties statewide. The additional duty of responding to other disasters such as hurricanes and floods has tested the agency’s ability to continue delivering high quality services.

TFS is indeed unique. Though housed under the area of higher education, it is not an academic institution but is a state agency with a vital public safety function. The role of the TFS is an essential one, as the wildfires currently burning across the state show. To-date, nearly two million acres of land have burned across the state from West Texas ranchlands to the piney woods in East Texas.

The next agency up this week is the Railroad Commission of Texas (Commission). The Commission unlike the name would imply, no longer deals with the State’s rail system. Instead, the main function of the Commission is to oversee and regulate the State’s oil and gas industry. The Commission serves as the State’s oldest regulatory agency. It has served this function for over 120 years. Many things in the oil and gas industry have changed over time and as such so has the regulatory authority of the Commission. The Commission’s role now includes economic oversight of oil and gas production and a greater focus on environmental protection.

During most of its existence, the Commission has primarily interacted with oil and gas producers and citizens familiar with the oil and gas industry. Based on today’s modern day technology, the Commission deals with new regulations and new groups.

The last agency up this week is the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). It began in 1917 as the State Highway Department. Since its founding, TxDOT has grown from its original responsibilities of granting financial aid and directing county road construction programs. Today it has a broader mission of developing and building a 21st century transportation system to address the State’s growing transportation needs.

To accomplish its mission of providing safe, efficient, and effective means for the movement of people and goods throughout the state, TxDOT:

• plans, constructs, maintains, and supports the State’s transportation system, including roads, bridges, public transportation, railroads, airports, the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, and ferry systems;
• develops and operates a system of toll roads using public and private-sector partners and financing options; and
• Manages operations on the state highway system, including improving traffic safety, issuing oversize/overweight permits, providing rest areas and travel information, and regulating outdoor advertising.

If you have questions or comments regarding any of the agencies up for sunset, please do not hesitate to call my Capitol or District Office. As always, my offices are available at any time to assist with questions, concerns or comments (Capitol Office, 512-463-0672; District Office, 361-949-4603).