Missed by almost everyone in the media feeding frenzy of stories about the Texas Department of Transportation is a rather substantive effort underway that could prove beneficial to taxpayers in the near future. New TxDOT Commission Chairwoman Dierdre Delisi appointed a committee charged with literally opening the books on the agency and its activities to an extent no one’s ever seen.

You can watch the discussion online the commission had with James Bass, the TxDOT’s chief financial officer. Be prepared for accounting talk, bureaucratic acronyms and industry jargon.

The real substance for future action, though, comes at the very end of the discussion. Delisi said, on the record, what she wants TxDOT to do moving forward: “The overall goal is complete financial transparency of the numbers of the agency and making them readily accessible to the public, the Legislautre, to anyone who wants them, when they want them.”

To that end she appointed commissioners Ned S. Holmes and Fred A. Underwood to work with the staff in developing a way “to get that (financial) data out there.”

Earlier in the discussion, Holmes lamented the troubles with getting even basic financial questions answered in a timely manner. The problem? He was told by Bass that TxDOT’s finances are done on a mainframe computer designed and purchased in the early 1980s. Very few of us have cars driving on the roads that old, and certainly don’t use computers that obsolete.

Working in the sunlight will be difficult for TxDOT, these first few tentative steps are encouraging for an agency that has developed a reputation for obfuscation.

There will be detractors who say Delisi cannot be trusted, that TxDOT is corrput, whatever. And while I consider her a friend, that’s probably not an unwise position to take (if taken as charitably as possible!) about anyone in a position of power. As Reagan said repeatedly in the 1980s, trust but verify. TxDOT’s commitment to reform may be a publicity stunt or it might be real. We should all keep working for real reform, and welcome any efforts from within the bureaucracy — any bureaucracy — to join us. At the end of the day, we have to see results.

Ultimately the burden is on us as taxpayers to elect public officials who will wisely steward our resources and diligently oversee these agencies. To the extent TxDOT has spun out of control is a reflection of the lack of stewardship exercised by politicians… and voters.

Michael Quinn Sullivan

A graduate of Texas A&M, former newspaper reporter, one-time Capitol Hill staffer, think tank vice president, and an Eagle Scout, Michael Quinn Sullivan and his wife have three children. He is the publisher of Texas Scorecard. Check out his podcast, “Reflections on Life and Liberty.”

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