Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Book Reviews -- Welfare System Reform: Coordinating Federal, State, and Local Public Assistance Programs Edited by Edward T. Jennings Jr. and Neal S. Zank

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Book Reviews -- Welfare System Reform: Coordinating Federal, State, and Local Public Assistance Programs Edited by Edward T. Jennings Jr. and Neal S. Zank

Article excerpt

JENNINGS, Edward T. (Jr.), and Neal S. ZANK, eds. WELFARE SYSTEM REFORM: Coordinating Federal, State, and Local Public Assistance Programs. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1993, 249 pp., $ 55.00 hardcover.

The U.S. National Commission for Employment Policy commissioned these papers, intending to generate recommendations on improving coordination in the complex system of public assistance programs. Though Welfare System Reform is really focussed on employment, training, and related assistance programs, this more limited area is bewildering enough, including seventy five federal programs and over $200 billion in public funding. Describing this system as fragmented, inefficient, and confusing, the editors call for better coordination, while admitting that: "Even though... coordination (has) become a standard feature of statue(s)... programs proliferate and linkages become more tenuous" (p.5).

For a work dedicated to coordination, this book's failure o define coordination and discuss what it can actually do, is curious. One author's attempt cites the anecdotal definition of coordination as "an unconventional act between nonconsenting adults". The contributors never apply the logic of conventional policy analysis, involving modelling a system, identifying basic problem causes, and evaluating possible alternative solutions for feasibility and effectiveness. Thus, though the editors quite rightly identify five "coordination problems" in their opening chapter, ranging from interagency competition to eligibility criteria, they neglect the deeper causes of these, essentially symptomatic, problems.

Nor is there mote than cursory reference to historical background or experience, or to the theory and literature on coordination and other relevant areas. Hopkins, for example, addresses the role of the Presidency and the White House based exclusively on the Reagan-Bush administration, with no review of previous aborted presidential reform efforts, or any reference to the extensive political science literature on the scope and limits of executive power.

Similarly, while Gimpel's discussion of congress does refer to the notorious "iron triangles" he hardly assesses the feasibility of his proposals (such as an interchamber Public Assistance conference committee) in the light of the very barriers he identifies. As a result, many of the essays, including the editors' conclusions, end with action recommendations which, while quite plausible and appealing, lack the persuasion of rigorous analysis. …

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