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Frequently Asked Questions

 

Why is it called “Sunset”?

In government, the term “sunset” means that a particular agency, program, policy, or law will expire on a specific date, unless the Legislature passes a bill to continue it.  In other words, anything with a “sunset” date will cease to exist after a set period of time unless the legislature takes action.  During the 1970s, many states created “sunset” laws to address the escalation of government budgets and the perception that government bureaucracy was not accountable.  Sunset provisions differ greatly, but share the common goal to regularly shine a light on state agencies and programs to see how well they are operating in a changing world, if they continue to be needed, and how they can do their jobs better.

When was the Sunset Advisory Commission established in Texas?

The Texas Legislature passed the Texas Sunset Act in 1977, at a time when scandals at both the federal and state level had eroded public confidence in government institutions. Texas was the second state in the country (behind Colorado in 1976) to create a Sunset process.  After Texas, 33 additional states passed similar Sunset laws.  The History of Sunset gives a full history of the Sunset Commission.

Doesn’t Texas already have oversight through audits and the budget process?

The Sunset Commission is one of several agencies charged with monitoring state agency performance.  These other oversight agencies include the State Auditor’s Office, Legislative Budget Board, Governor's Office of Budget and Planning, and legislative committees.  Sunset regularly works with these agencies to avoid duplication of effort and to identify issues that may be addressed by Sunset or another agency.

While standard legislative oversight is concerned with agency compliance with specific policies and procedures, Sunset starts with a more basic question, “Do the agency and its functions continue to be needed?”  Beyond this fundamental mission, Sunset has always been about more than just shrinking the size of government.  The process creates a unique opportunity and powerful incentive for the Legislature and stakeholders to look comprehensively at each agency and make improvements to its mission and operations.

Who makes up the Sunset Advisory Commission?

The Sunset Advisory Commission is a 12-member body, with five senators and one public member appointed by the Lieutenant Governor, and five members of the House of Representatives and one public member appointed by the Speaker of the House.  The Sunset Commission employs a Director who oversees about 30 staff to conduct the independent Sunset reviews.

Which agencies are subject to Sunset?

The Texas Sunset Act applies to about 140 agencies and other governmental entities, and each agency’s Sunset date is established in state law.  Most executive branch state agencies are subject to full Sunset review and abolishment under the Sunset Act. Some state entities, such as universities and courts, are exempt from Sunset review altogether. Other agencies, such as those created in the constitution like the Teachers’ Retirement System, must undergo a Sunset review but cannot be abolished under the Sunset Act.  Finally, the Legislature can direct special purpose Sunset reviews and studies, such as an evaluation of the state’s purchasing and contracting system, or reviews of local government entities such as river authorities.

About 20 to 30 agencies go through the Sunset review process each two-year cycle.  An agency typically undergoes a Sunset review once every 12 years, but the Legislature can change an agency’s Sunset date to allow for more or less time between reviews.

How many agencies has Sunset abolished?

The Sunset process has streamlined and changed state government.  Since Sunset’s inception in 1977, 85 agencies have been abolished, including 39 agencies that were completely abolished and 46 that were abolished with certain functions transferred to existing or newly created agencies.

How much money has Sunset saved?

Estimates from reviews conducted between 1982 and 2017 indicate a 35-year positive fiscal impact of approximately $981 million in savings and increased revenues, compared with expenditures of $46.4 million for the Sunset Commission.  Based on these figures, every dollar spent on the Sunset process has earned the State approximately $21 in return.

Is Sunset effective at passing good government reforms?

Yes — a strength of the Texas Sunset process is the high success rate of the Sunset Commission’s thoroughly-vetted recommendations becoming law.  The Legislature typically passes 80 percent of the Commission’s recommendations into law with little dispute.  These changes have positively affected almost every area of state government, as described in the Impact of Sunset.

Who sunsets Sunset?

As an agency created by the Legislature, the Legislature may abolish the Sunset Advisory Commission by passing a bill during any legislative session.  The Legislature has openly discussed the advantages and disadvantages of the Sunset process several times over the years.  However, the advantages (as discussed in the Impact of Sunset) have always been determined to strongly outweigh the disadvantages. 

In 2015, the Sunset Commission’s staff and process underwent a formal peer review by professionals from other state legislatures who specialize in program evaluation and public policy analysis.  This review affirmed the Texas Sunset process as a leader among states, and also provided useful feedback to improve internal review procedures.  Please refer to the NCSL Peer Review Report for the results of the peer review.

How are agencies reviewed?

Please refer to the process flowchart.

Sunset Staff Review.  Sunset staff work extensively with each agency under review to evaluate the need for the agency and propose recommendations for positive change.  An agency’s review typically takes from three to eight months depending on the size and complexity of the agency.  Sunset staff gathers information from a broad range of sources, some of which are listed below.

  • Each agency under review submits a Self-Evaluation Report (SER) that identifies problems, opportunities, and issues the agency feels should be considered in its review.

  • Sunset staff solicits input from the public, interest groups, and professional organizations regarding agency functions. 

  • Sunset staff collects and evaluates information from extensive interviews of agency personnel, performance reports, research on other states, and other sources. 

Once the evaluation phase of the review is completed, Sunset staff publishes a staff report, which contains recommendations for the Sunset Commission to consider.  Recommendations can suggest changing the state laws governing the agency, or can direct the management of the agency to make improvements.

Sunset Commission Deliberation.  After publication of the staff report, the Sunset Commission conducts a public hearing on each agency under review. All information presented at the public hearing is reviewed by Sunset staff and posted to Sunset’s website.  At the public hearing:

  • Sunset staff present the report and recommendations;

  • the agency formally responds to the staff recommendations; and

  • members of the public and other interested parties comment on the report as well as the agency’s overall operations and policies.

The Sunset Commission meets at a later date (typically about a month after the public hearing) to decide and vote on each staff recommendation, including whether to continue or abolish the agency. The Commission may modify the staff recommendations or add new recommendations based on testimony received at the hearing. Sunset staff updates the original staff report to include these decisions.

Legislative Action.  Sunset staff works with legislative attorneys to draft the Commission’s final decisions on each agency into a bill that goes through the regular legislative process.  Generally, the Legislature must pass the agency’s Sunset bill for it to continue to operate.

How can I participate in an agency’s Sunset review?

The Sunset process is designed to ensure that state government is responsive and transparent to the people of Texas.  To this end, the Sunset Commission and staff encourage public participation and present many opportunities to do so during the Sunset review process. See more guidance on How to Participate in Sunset.

Mailing List.  Anyone interested in receiving the Sunset review schedule, Commission meeting schedule and agendas, staff reports, and other documents can sign up for the Sunset mailing list.

Input During the Sunset Staff Review.  To provide input during the staff’s evaluation of an agency, you may contact Sunset directly or fill out the public input form.  Input received during an agency’s review prior to publication of the staff report is not subject to public disclosure under the Public Information Act.

Response to a Sunset Staff Report.  Once Sunset publishes a staff report, you may formally respond to the report in writing by filling out the public input form. These responses are considered public information, are subject to disclosure under the Public Information Act, and are published on the Sunset website.

Testifying before the Sunset Commission.  The Sunset Commission holds a public hearing on each agency under review.  Please check the Sunset Commission Meetings page for the meeting schedule and agendas.  These hearings provide the opportunity to testify about an agency and comment on the Sunset staff's report and recommendations.  If you would like to testify before the Commission, witness affirmation forms are available at the public hearing.  Public hearings are webcast and archives are available.

Participating in the Legislative Session.  The Sunset Commission’s recommendations on each agency under Sunset review are drafted into a bill that the Legislature must pass if the agency is to continue. Anyone can participate in the legislative process as they would with any other bill.

Accommodations.  Persons with special needs or those who wish to request an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accommodation should refer to the Accommodations for People With Disabilities at Sunset Commission Meetings Policy.

What changes can be made through Sunset?

Generally, the Sunset Act requires the Sunset Commission to recommend abolishing or continuing each agency under Sunset review.  If the Commission chooses to continue an agency, it almost always makes other recommendations to improve the agency’s operations.  These improvements may include transferring certain functions to another agency to eliminate duplication, identifying change to increase the efficiency of operations, or improving the responsiveness of the agency to its stakeholders. 

The Sunset Commission can recommend two types of actions: statutory changes to alter the state laws that govern a particular agency; or management changes, which direct the agency to change its rules or internal policies under existing authority.

What changes cannot be made through Sunset?

Sunset does not get involved in individual complaints, grievances, or cases.  Sunset is not an ombudsman’s office or an avenue for appeals.  Rather, Sunset gathers information relating to the types of complaints, grievances, and cases the agency has overall and assesses this information to see whether a larger policy issue that can be addressed through the Sunset review process exists.  The Sunset review process is also not the place to request additional funding or staff; this should be done through the appropriations process.

What happens if an agency is abolished?

If an agency is abolished, the agency has one year to conclude its operations. The agency retains full authority and responsibility until the end of that year, when all property and records are transferred to an appropriate state agency.

What standards guide a Sunset Review?

Please see Sunset review standards for more information.

Criteria in the Sunset Act.  Sunset staff uses general criteria set by the Legislature to evaluate each of the programs and functions of a state agency placed under Sunset review.  These criteria, summarized in the Sunset Review Questions, generally focus on the efficiency, effectiveness, fairness, and accountability of an agency.  In 2013, the Legislature added additional criteria specific to occupational licensing agencies.

Across-the-Board-Recommendations (ATBs).  Across-the-Board-Recommendations (ATBs) are statutory administrative policies adopted by the Sunset Commission as standards for state agencies to ensure open, responsive, and effective government. Routinely applying these ATB recommendations to agencies reflects an effort by the Legislature to prevent problems from occurring, instead of reacting to problems after the fact.   See a summary of each ATB.

Licensing and Regulatory Model. The Licensing and Regulatory Model is a collection of evolving standards based on past Sunset experience reviewing licensing agencies and programs, as well as other published best practices.  The compilation of these standards provides a model for evaluating licensing and regulatory programs, promoting efficiency, effectiveness, fairness, and accountability to protect the public.  View a full description of Sunset’s Licensing and Regulatory model.