Bush wants to bring Texas sunsets to Washington

fmicciche@govexec.com

Those wondering how Governor George W. Bush might manage the federal bureaucracy as president could learn a great deal from his references to Texas' Sunset Advisory Commission (SAC) as a model for government reform.

The 1977 law establishing the sunset procedure dictates that all state agencies be dismantled twelve years after their most recent review, unless affirmatively renewed by a vote of the legislature. That vote is influenced considerably by the commission's lengthy investigation into the agency's efficiency, effectiveness, bureaucratic burden and other conditions.

The Texas SAC falls within the legislative branch, so it only deals with Bush's office when the governor must decide whether to sign off on a sunset proposal already approved by the House and Senate. Still, he has warmly received the reform generated by the commission.

"The positions his office has taken on the sunset bills we've sent them has been to try to reorganize and streamline government," said Joey Longley, Director of the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission. "His public statements support the process, unlike his predecessor (Democrat Ann Richards, who was defeated by Bush in 1994)."

In seventeen years of existence, the body has overseen the abolition of forty-three state agencies, roughly fifteen percent of all those it reviewed. According to fiscal notes issued by the state's bipartisan Legislative Budget Board, these recommendations have yielded a savings of $663 million.

In campaign speeches Bush has promised to trim the federal workforce by not filling the positions of 40,000 managers expected to retire in the next eight years. He has also proposed establishing a federal sunsetting mechanism based on the Texas model.

The idea of introducing Texas reforms to Washington, DC is not a new one. In fact, when Bush's opponent, Vice President Al Gore, launched his National Performance Review, now known as the National Partnership for Reinventing Government, his staff brought in SAC veterans working for the state comptroller's office to advise. At the time, the state was governed by Richards.

At least one longtime observer of the federal scene feels that, if Bush is bent on following through on his workforce reduction pledge, he would be well served to figure out what programs deserve the ax, rather than imposing an across-the-board cut.

"I would hope that, if there's a Bush presidency, he would first learn more about what downsizing has already been done," said Carol Bonosaro, President of the Senior Executive Association. "Hopefully, what he would bring (if he decides to go forward with proposal) is a philosophy to cut the programs that everyone agrees should be cut and then talk about the numbers."

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