What Happens to Records When Agencies Are Abolished or Absorbed

Sometimes, the Sunset Commission “sunsets” state agencies. But what does that 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.”

Texas Sunset Advisory Commission, Frequently Asked Questions, “What does “Sunset” mean?

Please visit the Sunset Commission’s website to find more information about the process. In this post, we will focus on several key questions for records managers: What does this mean for records? What happens to records of an agency that is abolished or absorbed into another agency?

When Agencies are Abolished

The records management assistance unit here at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) has bulletins for state agencies on what to do with your records if entities are abolished. Bulletin 4 states the following:

When state agencies are abolished, if the abolished agency is not combining with another agency, the abolished agency’s records shall be in the custody and control of the Comptroller.

Chalk board that has "Follow the Rules" written in white chalk with an exclamation point.
Chalk board that has “Follow the Rules” written in white chalk with an exclamation point.

The records manager of the Comptroller shall create a list of the records of the abolished agency and submit it to TSLAC within 180 days of the agency’s abolishment. When submitted, TSLAC will determine if records in the abolished agency are archival. Finally, those designated archival will be transferred to TSLAC. To find the specific requirements, take a look at Bulletin 4. When agencies are abolished, the Texas Comptroller’s office holds records for some of those agencies. For more information from the Comptroller, please visit the Comptroller’s website. The State Archivist will determine the archival value of the abolished agency’s records. For more information on how the archives determine the archival value of records, please visit TSLAC’s Archives and Reference page.

When Agencies are Absorbed (Transferred) into Another Agency

Human figures on top of a puzzle with the words "integration" written in large letters.
Human figures on top of a puzzle with the words “integration” written in large letters.

If the abolished agency’s duties are transferred to another agency, that agency will take custody and control of those records. Agencies must consider their own retention schedules when it comes to integrating with another agency. Records Management Officers (RMOs) should add records series to their retention schedule to accommodate the new records that will be coming in—this could look like adding records series from the old agency to the new agency’s recertification.

I spoke with two RMOs about what they did when it came to absorbing another agency’s records. The Texas Historical Commission (THC) already had control of the administrative records of the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission (THGC); However, when THGC was fully absorbed into the THC, records management duties were fully transferred into the THC. Esther Brickley, the RMO of the Texas Historical Commission, describes the acquisition as being unique—but not new:

“This was a unique situation in that, although the abolished agency, THGC, (Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission) was a stand-alone agency, they were administratively attached to the THC since their inception. In other words, THC and our staff services division, had been supporting THGC’s administrative functions (paying their bills, administering their purchasing, HR issues/hiring/firing etc). The first step I took was to add THGC’s entire RRS (Records Retention Schedule) to THC’s. Understanding that THC likely had the original documentation for their administrative records, I then looked for duplications and collaborated with the THGC’s RMO to determine if they actually had original files for those duplicate RSINs or if they only had convenience copies. If they did have original documents, I kept the duplicate RSINs on our RRS and added a note that those records would be retained by the THGC until their retention criteria was met. If THGC only had convenience copies and THC already had the originals, then I removed THGC’s duplicate RSINs (Records Series Item Number) from the schedule. Once all that had been clarified, I went back and reviewed THGC’s archival codes and retention periods to ensure they matched THC’s.”

Esther Brickley, Senior Executive Assistant/Records Management Officer, Texas Historical Commission

Janet Sobieski, the Records Management Officer of the Texas Board of Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors, also described what it was like combining two different agencies:

“We took both schedules and combined the entries in a logical fashion where licensing records were together, enforcement records were together, HR records were together, etc. We met as a team to approach the tedious task of comparing the overlap or inconsistencies and we either retained records which were unique to the land surveyor agency or modified the land surveyor records to match the engineer board as the engineer board was being retained and the land surveyor board was being abolished. We found there was a lot of specific language relating to engineering licenses and documents or land surveyor registrations and documents. So, we removed the specifics and made it more generic to where a license, registration, application or exam document would refer to both professions. We then reviewed items specific to the land surveyor board and discussed their relevance to the combined board or the state schedule. As we started going through the process of reviewing documentation, we have found items which weren’t on the schedule so we have made some amendments. This is still a work in progress as we bring more documents over from storage and review the schedule.”

Janet Sobieski, Operations Director, Texas Board of Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors.

Conclusion

Other factors that records management officers should consider are size of the agency, the amount of information to comb through in the event that two agencies combine, determining what records are useful within the living agency, and any archival information from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Visit the Sunset Commission’s website for more information on abolished agencies. Read the current Sunset in Texas: 2022-2023 88th Legislature that discusses the most current information regarding Sunset in Texas. Please visit the Texas State Library and Archives Commission’s website to learn how archivists determine the archival value of records.

Finally, subscribe to our website, The Texas Record, to stay updated on all things records management. In particular articles like: The Lay RMO’s Guide to Appraising Archival/Historical Records, How Does Records Management Benefit Us Anyway?, Getting the Most Out of Your State Agency Retention Schedule, and more!

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