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Frequently Asked Questions

 

What does “Sunset” mean?

In government, “Sunset” reviews regularly assess the need for a state agency or program to exist. In Texas, the Sunset process works by setting an expiration (Sunset) date in law for state agencies. An agency will automatically be abolished on its Sunset date unless the Legislature passes a bill to continue it, typically for another 12 years. A rigorous evaluation process before the Sunset date provides the Legislature a unique opportunity and a strong incentive to closely examine an agency’s mission, priorities, and performance and take action to address problems identified.

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 to create a Sunset process, after Colorado did in 1976. Since then, 34 more states have adopted some form of Sunset process. 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 that monitor state agencies’ performance, including 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.

Unlike other legislative oversight agencies that evaluate an agency’s financial accountability or compliance with state and federal laws, a Sunset review starts by asking a more fundamental question — is the state agency still needed? If the answer is yes, then Sunset evaluates the agency’s programs, operations, and success in fulfilling its mission. As part of the review, Sunset also seeks public input to identify problems and opportunities for improving the agency. 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 an executive director who oversees about 30 staff to conduct the independent Sunset reviews.

Which agencies are subject to Sunset?

The Sunset Commission currently has 131 agencies scheduled for review during the next 12 years. The Legislature sets the Sunset review schedule in law, but the agencies and their Sunset dates are subject to change every legislative session. Sunset is scheduled to evaluate an average of 22 agencies every two years through 2031. A few agencies under Sunset review are not subject to abolishment, such as river authorities and state agencies created by the Texas Constitution. Most judicial and higher education agencies are not subject to Sunset review.

How many agencies has Sunset abolished?

The Sunset process has streamlined and changed state government. Since Sunset’s inception in 1977, 92 agencies have been abolished, including 41 agencies that were completely abolished and 51 abolished with certain functions consolidated or transferred to existing or newly created agencies.

How much money has Sunset saved?

Reviews conducted between 1982 and 2019 have had an estimated positive fiscal impact of $1 billion in state and federal savings and revenue gains, with a return of $19 for every $1 appropriated to the Sunset Commission since 1985. 

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. Since 2001, 80 percent of the Sunset Commission’s statutory recommendations to the Legislature have become state law. These changes have positively affected almost every area of state government, as described in the Impact of Sunset.

Who sunsets Sunset?

The Legislature created the Sunset Commission and may abolish it 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?

process flow chart provides a summary of the Sunset process described below.

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 agency’s size and complexity. 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 during the review.
  • Sunset staff solicits input from the public, interest groups, and professional organizations regarding the agency’s mission, functions, and operations. 
  • Sunset staff collects and evaluates information from extensive interviews of agency staff and policymakers, performance reports, research on other states, and other sources. 

Once the evaluation phase is completed, Sunset staff publishes a staff report that contains recommendations for the Sunset Commission to consider. Recommendations can propose changing the state laws governing the agency or directing agency management to make improvements.

Sunset Commission Deliberations. After the staff publishes its report, the Sunset Commission conducts a public hearing on the agency. All information presented at the public hearing is posted to Sunset’s website. At the public hearing:

  • Sunset staff present the report and recommendations.
  • The agency formally responds to the staff recommendations.
  • Members of the public and other interested parties provide written comments and testify 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 vote on each staff recommendation, including whether to continue or abolish the agency. The commission may modify staff recommendations and add new recommendations based on testimony received at the hearing. Sunset staff updates the original staff report to include the commission’s 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. The Sunset Commission and staff encourage public participation and present many opportunities for public input during the Sunset review process. See How to Participate in Sunset.

Email 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 email list.

Input During the Sunset Staff Review. To provide input during the staff’s evaluation of an agency, 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 Sunset Staff Reports. After Sunset publishes a staff report, 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.

Testimony 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. To testify at a commission hearing, submit a witness affirmation form at the public hearing. Public hearings are webcast and archives are available.

Participation in the Legislative Session. The Sunset Commission’s recommendations on an 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 Sunset’s Accommodations for People With Disabilities.

What changes can be made through Sunset?

The Legislature makes the final decisions on statutory changes to an agency, based on the Sunset Commission’s recommendations and public input. Typically, the Sunset Commission recommends whether to abolish or continue an agency, or to combine the functions of two or more agencies to streamline state government. The commission also recommends statutory changes to solve problems identified in the Sunset staff report and during public hearings. In addition, the Sunset Commission can issue management directives to an agency to address operational concerns identified during the staff review or public hearing. A few agencies undergo a special purpose or limited review, focusing on specific topics and issues specified by the Legislature.

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 general information on the types of complaints, grievances, and cases the agency has overall and assesses this information to see if a larger policy issue exists that can be addressed through the Sunset review process. The Sunset review process also does not consider requests for 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. The Legislature has established general criteria in the Texas Sunset Act (Sections 325.011 and 325.0115, Government Code) for the Sunset Commission and staff to consider when reviewing all agencies, as well as specific criteria for reviews of occupational licensing agencies. These criteria, summarized in the Sunset Review Questions, generally focus on the efficiency, effectiveness, fairness, and accountability of an agency.

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 Regulation Model. The Sunset Licensing and Regulation 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.