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GG 41
Merge the Animal Health Commission with the Department of Agriculture


Summary
Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) is the state’s premier agricultural authority and the logical place for TAHC’s functions. Transferring TAHC’s inspection functions to TDA would allow the state to eliminate the commission’s Austin administrative staffing without compromising public health and safety. The field offices would remain intact under TDA.


Background
Two Texas state agencies oversee the health and marketability of agricultural products. The Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) inspects and tests livestock, poultry and exotic game for infectious diseases. The Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) ensures the profitability of agricultural markets while protecting public health and state natural resources. TAHC should be abolished and its programs transferred to TDA.

The Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) was founded in 1893 to protect the health of all Texas livestock, including cattle, swine, poultry, sheep, goats, equine family animals and exotic livestock. TAHC is governed by 12 commissioners appointed by the governor to staggered six-year terms and representing several agricultural livestock industries. [1]

TAHC has 205 employees, 35 percent of whom are based in the Austin headquarters. TAHC appropriations for the 2002-03 biennium total $24.4 million, of which $18.6 million is general revenue. TAHC received an additional $5.7 million in federal funds for those years, primarily to assist the agency in testing cattle for brucellosis and tuberculosis.

TAHC has eight field offices in Amarillo, Lufkin, Fort Worth, Mount Pleasant, Beeville, Lampasas, Rockdale and Hallettsville, each with six to 15 animal inspectors and at least two veterinarians. The veterinarians send field test samples gathered at livestock auctions and other points of livestock sale or shipment to agency laboratories in Austin, Fort Worth, Lubbock and Palestine. A state epidemiologist and two other epidemiologists work out of Fort Worth and San Antonio.[2]

The Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) is headed by a commissioner elected statewide to a four-year term. TDA regulates pesticide use and oversees integrated pest management programs; inspects plant nurseries; assists agricultural producers with marketing opportunities; performs seed quality inspections; licenses, inspects and enforces state standards for eggs, grain warehouses, perishables and other agricultural commodities; certifies fruit, vegetables and peanuts as ready for market; and inspects weighing and measuring devices.

TDA has 506.5 full time equivalent employees (FTEs), primarily in the Austin office. TDA appropriations for the 2002-03 biennium totaled $114.2 million; $105.4 million was general revenue.


Recommendations
A. State law should be amended to eliminate the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC).

The agency should be eliminated effective March 1, 2004, to allow for a six-month phase-in period. Commissioners’ terms also should end on that date.

B. State law should be amended to transfer TAHC’s field offices, laboratories and inspection programs to the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA).

This transfer would add an estimated 147 FTEs in 13 field locations and an estimated 28 FTEs in the Austin office to TDA’s 506.5 FTEs.

C. TAHC’s commission should be re-established under TDA as the Animal Health Council.

The number of council members should be reduced from 12 to five. New council members should be appointed by the governor to two-year terms from a list of candidates submitted by the agricultural commissioner.


Fiscal Impact
TAHC is authorized by the current General Appropriations Act to employ 215 full-time equivalent employees (FTEs) for fiscal 2003. As of February 28, 2003, TAHC employed 205 FTEs. Of these, 72 were employed in the Austin office.

According to TAHC’s legislative appropriations request for fiscal 2004-05, the agency’s total indirect costs in 2002—that is, the costs of its central administration, information resources and other support services—were $1.9 million, of which $1.2 million represented salaries for 30 FTEs. Adding benefits of 28.28 percent, including retirement (6 percent), health insurance (14.63 percent) and FICA (7.65 percent), the total salary expense for these FTEs adds an additional cost of $337,000, for a total administrative cost of $2,221,096 annually.

Savings would be achieved by reducing the budget for the newly merged agency and benefit appropriations by a total of $2.2 million each year. These reductions would be phased in beginning September 1, 2003 and ending March 1, 2004. Therefore, savings in fiscal 2004 would be half of those in the following years.

Fiscal Year Savings to General Revenue Change in FTEs
2004 $1,111,000 -15
2005 $2,221,000 -30
2006 $2,221,000 -30
2007 $2,221,000 -30
2008 $2,221,000 -30



Endnotes

[1] Texas Animal Health Commission, “Agency Overview,” http://www.tahc.state.tx.us/agency/. (Last visited March 9, 2003).

[2] Interview with Rick Smathers, director of Program Records, Texas Animal Health Commission, Austin, Texas, March 4, 2003.