Essential Texans V: Still Going the Distance Image

by Texas Public Employees Association | June 21, 2021

Essential Texans V: Still Going the Distance

A routine Texas Sunset Commission report found that GO TEXAN, a state program promoting Texas agriculture and related industries, lost an average of 400 members each year. The Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) had no systematic means to oversee the use of its GO TEXAN brand.

Graphics communicate information swaying a consumer’s decision to purchase a given product. Think of every grocery product that wears a “Local” sticker. Different definitions and a lack of oversight obscure our trust in these signals. The State of Texas sought to change this. In 1999, TDA filed a copyright for a logo demonstrating a product was made in Texas. Any entity such as a restaurant or business that grows, produces, processes, or manufactures in Texas can purchase a GO TEXAN membership to use its distinct mark on their products. Anything with this mark should be certified Texan.

Unfortunately, TDA only stops non-members from using the GO TEXAN mark when its field representatives happen upon violations as they go about their work. Why bother with a membership? The Sunset Commission agreed with Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller: the problems with GO TEXAN stem from its “lack of a clear statutory purpose.” GO TEXAN originally worked in tandem with a partner program connecting grant funds to agriculture industry members for additional marketing. When this partner program ended in 2011, lawmakers let GO TEXAN continue without setting a clear definition of the standalone program’s purpose.

You gain momentum falling. As a cost recovery program needing to build its own revenue, GO TEXAN struggles when it loses funds, generating more cancelled memberships and a greater loss of funds. The downward spiral GO TEXAN finds itself in suggests our Texas-sized agriculture industry is not receiving full, Texas-sized support. TDA spreads support across ~250,000 farms over 127 million acres in Texas, the nation’s third-largest agricultural producer. Texas’ $115B agriculture industry is second only to the oil and gas industry in driving the economy. Yet, TDA doesn’t crack the top 20 largest state agencies:

  1. Health and Human Services Commission (35,346 employees)
  2. Texas Department of Criminal Justice (34,683 employees)
  3. Department of Family and Protective Services (12,733 employees)
  4. Texas Department of Transportation (12,405 employees)
  5. Department of Public Safety (10,269 employees)
  6. Texas Workforce Commission (4,724 employees)
  7. Office of the Attorney General (4,000 employees)
  8. Department of State Health Services (3,262 employees)
  9. Parks and Wildlife Department (3,033 employees)
  10. Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (2,655 employees)
  11. Comptroller of Public Accounts (2,627 employees)
  12. Texas Juvenile Justice Department (1,965 employees)
  13. Texas Department of Insurance (1,280 employees)
  14. Comptroller of Public Accounts, Judiciary Section (1,076 employees)
  15. Texas Education Agency (999 employees)
  16. House of Representatives (943 employees)
  17. Railroad Commission (844 employees)
  18. Teacher Retirement System (840 employees)
  19. Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (740 employees)
  20. General Land Office and Veteran’s Land Board (719 employees)
  21. Department of Agriculture (628 employees)

Source: Government Salaries Explorer as of April 1, 2021

With no further direction from the Legislature concerning GO TEXAN, TDA Field Representatives still go the distance to promote and assist Texas agriculture. These representatives of the Lone Star State wear many hats, sitting on local committees and meeting with judges, officials, business owners, event planners, and consumers across the counties they serve.

When we interviewed Nelda Barrera in November, she was driving to her next site visit. As TDA Field Representative for the Rio Grande Valley, her region covers 18 counties in South Texas. That seems tame compared to the 44 counties that her colleague, Carol Faulkenberry, covers in the Panhandle, the largest of any region. (The difference can be chalked up to population density.) Both state employees live days on the road from 5 am past 5 pm. Both have been at this for almost 45 years combined. From a gulf shrimping tradition called the “Blessing of the Fleet” to working with hundreds of wineries, they have intriguing stories to tell.

Barrera said TDA’s Texas Community Development Block Grant Program (TxCDBG) may surprise people. Populous counties receive CDBG funds for infrastructure, economic development, and disaster response projects directly from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Barrera assists the rural counties covered in the state distribution system, which awarded over $66 million in TxCDBG funds in fiscal year 2019. TDA Field Representatives visit award sites to take photos, ask questions, and ensure the Federal Government’s rules will be met. This can’t be done over Zoom. For a stretch of the pandemic, the relatively few in-person visits Barrera travelled were for TxCDBG.

“I had never done very many virtual meetings. Now it’s four or five, six a day that I’m being included on,” Faulkenberry explained, “Business still needs to happen, people still need to turn on their irrigation, still need to harvest. We’ve had to repackage how we network people.” Connecting communities is the work of field representatives. When people are connected, they’re resilient. Faulkenberry shared how the only grocery store in a town of 2,500 shut down (before the pandemic) and local businesses stepped up. Another grocery store opened as the pandemic hit. Despite the town’s resilience, there were country-wide shortages to fend. Faulkenberry saw and filled a need by helping sort out their supply chain.

As Commissioner Miller opined, “If 2020 was the year from hell, it looks like 2021 is the year hell froze over.” When Winter Storm Uri disrupted Texas’ agriculture, TDA field staff stepped in. In a moment where supply chains were backed up and farms lost millions each day, it helped to have state employees already laser focused on supporting different regions with agriculture, development, and supply chain management. TDA Field Representatives were prepared to locate food for distribution at food banks, and to assist rural hospitals in securing necessary resources to stay open. They will stay prepared to roll out at 5 am to handle whatever acute or prolonged disaster Texans face, and will try their best with undefined programs like GO TEXAN. They are Essential Texans.

 

Further Reading
Sunset Review for 2020–2021 Review Cycle, 87th Legislative Session. Staff Report with Commission Decisions (Dec 2020)
Sunset Review for 2020–2021 Review Cycle, 87th Legislative Session. Public Comment from Sid Miller (June 2020)

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