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July 15, 2008 (512) 463-0300

TXDOT GOES BEFORE SUNSET COMMISSION

(AUSTIN) -- Officials from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) told a panel of lawmakers Tuesday that they are aware of problems within their agency and are working to fix them. TxDOT Commission Chair Deidre Delisi and Executive Director Armando Saenz, Jr. appeared as part of the agency's Sunset review, where state auditors look at the operations within a given agency and recommend changes in operation and organization. TxDOT garnered a reputation during last session of being inaccessible to both legislators and members of the public, and staff recommendations reflected some of these concerns.

Staff recommendations presented to the Sunset Commission noted a lack of transparency and accountability in the state's transportation planning system. They found the agency needed to enhance meaningful avenues for public input, beginning with a redesign of TxDOT's website. Perhaps the most sweeping change recommended is a change from a five member transportation commission to a single commissioner. Staff also recommended the creation of a six-member legislative oversight committee to monitor TxDOT and direct legislative funding of transportation research projects.

Executive Director Armando Saenz, Jr. testified that he is well aware of some of the shortcomings within his agency, and agreed with the recommendations made by Sunset Commission staff. He stressed that TxDOT is already working on addressing some of the concerns reflected in the Sunset staff report. The agency is expanding efforts to increase transparency, and to bring citizens and lawmakers into the planning and decision making process. Saenz said his agency has streamlined its ethics reporting procedures, and is implementing continuing education requirements for administrators and certain agency staff. Furthermore, TxDOT is preparing to revamp its website and is evaluating its current complaint tracking system.

Legislators offered a number of suggestions during testimony. One such suggestion, made by Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon in June during the Department of Public Safety's Sunset review, was echoed at Tuesday's meeting. Jones-McClendon wants to take licensing functions from DPS and vehicle-related functions from TxDOT and combine them into a state Department of Motor Vehicles. Another suggestion, one that drew applause from the assembled public audience, was making the TxDOT commissioner an elected office. These and other recommendations will be considered by the Sunset Commission in creating the TxDOT re-authorization bill, which will go before both houses of the Legislature during next year's 81st regular session.

The Sunset Commission is chaired by Lubbock Representative Carl Isett, Jr. and co-chaired by Katy Senator Glenn Hegar. It consists of Senators Kim Brimer, Craig Estes, Robert Deuell, Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, Representatives Lois Kolkhorst, Linda Harper-Brown, Ruth Jones McClendon, Dan Flynn and public members Ike Sugg and Charles McMahen.

Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's audio and video archive pages.

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