Sunset Committee Report proposes major reform, greater accountability at TxDOT
A scathing Sunset Committee Report on TxDOT was released today (news story below) and it recommends a "legislative conservator" takeover the agency among other reforms.
There are 6 problem areas identified in the report, but here are the key recommendations that pertain to our concerns:
• Abolish the Texas Transportation Commission and replace it with an appointed Commissioner of Transportation.
• Establish a Transportation Legislative Oversight Committee to provide necessary oversight of the Department and the state’s transportation system.
• Require the Transportation Legislative Oversight Committee to review and comment on TxDOT’s research program, including individual research projects and activities.
• The Sunset Commission should recommend that the Legislature directly fund the Texas Transportation Institute to conduct transportation research previously contracted through TxDOT.
• Continue TxDOT for four years (instead of 12).
• Require TxDOT to develop and implement a public involvement policy that guides and encourages more meaningful public involvement efforts agency-wide.
• Require TxDOT to develop standard procedures for documenting complaints and for tracking and analyzing complaint data.
• TxDOT should provide central coordination of the Department’s major marketing campaigns.
The big holes? We asked for the 5 member Transportation Commission APPOINTED by the Governor to be replaced with a single ELECTED commissioner, and while the Sunset Committee staff recommended abolishing the Commission and replacing it with a single commissioner, they still would have that position APPOINTED by the Governor (giving us the same mess we have now)! The difference is the Commissioner would be re-appointed and come before the Senate for confirmation every 2 years instead of every 4.
Hole #2 - "TxDOT should provide central coordination of the Department’s major marketing campaigns." What??! TURF is suing the State to STOP TxDOT's "marketing" propaganda campaign, the last thing we need is to centralize illegal activity! We also don't need "public education" campaigns like "Don't Mess With Texas" anti-litter program or its "Click it or Ticket" campaign when we're supposedly "out of money" for basic highway needs. This is wasteful, useless spending and the Committee staff should have called for an end to it. It's their job to eliminate waste. Well, this is prime fodder for the chopping block. It enriches marketing and PR firms, not provide transportation for taxpayers.
Hole #3 - There are no specific public involvement recommendations that would force TxDOT to do what the public asks them to, particularly in regards to toll projects and the Trans Texas Corridor. Simply taking public testimony and then ignoring it is what has caused a massive taxpayer revolt all over the state! We need some public involvement REQUIREMENTS that FORCE TxDOT to implement the alternative chosen by the public, not the one that makes the State the most tax revenue.
This is why we need YOU to come testify before the full Sunset Advisory Committee on July 15 in Austin to insist the Committee make any new commissioner directly accountable to the taxpayers at the ballot box so we don't end up with the same problems we have now.
TxDOT labeled 'out of control'
By Peggy Fikac
Express-News Austin Bureau
AUSTIN — Saying big changes are needed to restore trust in the Texas Department of Transportation, the Sunset Advisory Commission staff is recommending a revamp of TxDOT's governing board, project planning and its dealings with lawmakers and the public.
The Sunset staff report to be released today — and shared with the San Antonio Express-News by a source close to the process — comes in the wake of controversy over planned public-private partnerships on toll roads and the Trans-Texas Corridor and questions concerning agency funding figures.
“The Sunset review of the Texas Department of Transportation occurred against a backdrop of distrust and frustration with the Department and the demand for more transparency, accountability, and responsiveness. Many expressed concerns that TxDOT was ‘out of control,' advancing its own agenda against objections of both the Legislature and the public,” according to the report.
It says that “tweaking the status quo is simply not enough” to restore trust.
TxDOT spokesman Chris Lippincott said Monday, “The confidence of the Legislature and the public are very important to us. We still have work to do, but we are confident that our ongoing efforts to improve the transparency and accessibility of TxDOT are making a positive impact.”
Among changes, the staff is recommending replacing the five-member commission with a single commissioner, who would have a two-year term rather than the current six years. The shorter term would mean required Senate confirmation would occur more often, giving lawmakers more oversight.
However, the commissioner still would be appointed by the governor, a concern for opponents of TxDOT's policies.
That's because the policies pushed by the Texas Transportation Commission are in sync with those of GOP Gov. Rick Perry, who named the commissioners. Opponents of those policies would prefer an elected commissioner or commissioners.
“The most important thing is that they're elected positions,” said Sal Costello of TexasTollParty.com. “It gets right down to who's accountable.”
“We wanted a single, elected commissioner who answers directly to the people of Texas ... Having the governor's paws on this department just has got to stop,” said Terri Hall of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom. She added, however, that proposed changes constitute “a step in the right direction. I'm glad the committee seems to be hearing what the public outcry is.”
The staff also proposes increasing legislative oversight through a new House-Senate committee; making TxDOT's transportation planning and project development more open and easily understood; enhancing chances for meaningful public involvement; improving TxDOT's contract management; and reviewing the agency again in four years, rather than the usual 12, to ensure needed changes have been made.
Agencies are reviewed periodically by the Sunset commission to see if they should continue to exist and whether changes are needed. Changes proposed by the commission will be considered in 2009 by the Legislature.
Lawmakers on the commission said it's clear that change is needed, although they'll need to weigh input including staff recommendations.
Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said he wants to give new Texas Transportation Commission Chair Deirdre Delisi a chance to improve agency operations but that he likes the direction of Sunset staff proposals.
Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, said straightforward, public accountability is key.
“There is obviously a great amount of distrust between the Legislature and the agency, as well as the general public. Something obviously needs to be done — major — to change the way this agency is doing business,” she said.