Texas Sunset Review Commission's Across-the-Board Recommendations (ATBs)
The Sunset Advisory Commission, created under the authority of the Texas Sunset Act adopted in 1977, was established to review periodically each state agency and make recommendations for either reform or abolition. The first commission also saw fit to adopt a set of across-the-board "good government" recommendations (ATBs) to which all agencies should conform.
The initial list of ATBs has been updated and expanded over the years to include a total of eleven recommendations based on recurring problems identified over the course of hundreds of agency reviews. The emphasis in this recent list of ATBs is on the membership, conduct and oversight of the hundreds of agency boards. The first list of ATBs focused more on the management of salaried employees (career ladders, merit pay, and equal employment opportunity).
The text below is reproduced directly from the December 2003 edition of the Sunset Advisory Commission's "Guide to the Texas Sunset Process" (pp. 7-8).
What are Sunset Across-the-Board Recommendations?
Sunset Across-the-Board recommendations (ATBs) are statutory administrative policies adopted by the Sunset Commission that contain "good government" standards for state agencies. They are an outgrowth of the Sunset Act's review criteria and have resulted from recurring problems identified through more than 300 reviews. The ATBs are designed to ensure open, responsive, and reflective government.
1. Public Membership on State Agency Boards
While state agencies are designed to protect the health, welfare, and safety of the public, some agencies have governing boards with membership only from the regulated industry. These boards may be more responsive to public interests with a direct public voice on the board. To ensure appropriate representation, this ATB requires that some board members represent the general public.
2. Prohibitions on Agency Conflicts of Interest
State agencies may have ties with professional trade organizations and other groups that may not be in the public interest. Conflicts of interest can also result when an agency's board members or general counsel are involved in lobbying. This ATB reduces the possibility of such conflicts.
3. Unbiased Appointments to Agency Boards
The fairness and impartiality of state agencies' operations are aided by policymaking bodies that are chosen on an impartial, unbiased basis. This Sunset ATB requires appointments to be made without regard to race, color, disability, sex, religion, age, or national origin.
4. Governor Designation of State Agency Board Chairs
While the presiding officers of many state agency policymaking bodies are elected by fellow members, this ATB authorizes the Governor to designate the presiding officer as a means of increasing the agency's accountability to the State's leadership.
5. Specific Grounds for Removal of Agency Board Members
This ATB specifies the reasons for which a member of the policymaking body may be removed. To prevent questions on the validity of actions taken by boards, the provision clarifies that if grounds for removal exist, actions taken by the board are still valid.
6. Board Member Training
Members of policymaking bodies should be provided with adequate information and training to allow them to properly discharge their duties. This provision requires agencies to provide training and establishes the type of training and information to be included.
7. Separation of Agency Board and Staff Functions
State agencies have difficulties when their policymaking bodies also administer the agency. This recommendation requires each policymaking body to clearly separate its functions from those of agency management.
8. Public Testimony at Board Meetings
This requirement ensures the opportunity for public input to the policymaking body on issues under its jurisdiction.
9. Information on Complaints
Sunset reviews have found that some agencies do not maintain complete information on complaints. Inadequate information slows the resolution of complaints and limits the agency's ability to protect the public. This ATB requires agencies to maintain files on complaints and to inform parties to a complaint of its status and agency investigation and resolution procedures.
10. Technology Use
This recommendation requires agencies to ensure the effective use of technology in the delivery of services and provision of information to the public.
11. Alternative Dispute Resolution
This recommendation requires agencies to develop a written, comprehensive plan that encourages the use of alternative procedures for agency rulemaking, and internal and external disputes.