Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Organizational Culture and Management Capacity in a Social Welfare Organization: A Case Study of Kansas

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Organizational Culture and Management Capacity in a Social Welfare Organization: A Case Study of Kansas

Article excerpt

Increasing social problems and decreasing federal support for welfare programs are placing new demands on public agencies and straining existing human service delivery systems. This article presents a case study of a typical state social service agency, describes the current situation, identifies problem areas, and recommends structural and managerial changes.

Some of the issues pressuring welfare agencies are stagnant family income, increased divorce, growth in reported child abuse and neglect, violent juvenile crime, escalating medical costs, and an aging population (Cherlin, 1988; Lynn, 1990; Levy and Michel, 1991). The problems are national in scope. Medicaid spending more than tripled between 1986 and 1993, while corrections experienced comparable growth rates. The nation's child welfare system is also under stress today, a result of unprecedented growth in the number of reports of abuse and neglect (American Public Welfare Association, 1990).

These problems are escalating at a time when the federal government has significantly reduced its role in social welfare. In 1981, major cuts in welfare programs were proposed by President Reagan and approved by Congress. Since 1981, state expenditures for public aid have increased significantly faster than federal spending, 57 percent compared to 20 percent (Bixby, 1990). During that period the federal share of public aid spending has declined from 65.5 percent to 62.5 percent.

Welfare has never been a popular issue, particularly with state and local politicians. Still it remains a significant portion of state and local government budgets. State and local governments spent nearly $220 billion on social welfare programs in 1992 (Burtless, 1994). That figure accounts for roughly one-quarter of all state and local government spending (Bixby, 1990). All indications are that the federal role in social welfare will continue to contract and that the role of the states will increase (Gold, 1990).

The growing pressure on states has raised the question of whether or not the current organization and management of human services programs might be altered to improve both the efficiency and effectiveness of service delivery. In order to deal with the pressures created by expanding roles in social welfare, state governments must develop the capacity to manage resources more effectively. Based on clear observation of the operations of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS), this article identifies opportunities for improving managerial and organizational performance.


This article is based on a study conducted for the Governor's Commission on a Policy Agenda for Kansas. The seventeen member, bipartisan commission was appointed in August of 1989 to identify issues critical to the future of Kansas, to solicit views from the public at large, to draw upon the expertise of university faculty to analyze the issues, and to identify policy choices available to Kansas to respond to these issues (Flentje, 1990). One of the issues selected was the organization of human services. Public interest in this topic was high due in part to serious budgetary overruns that were experienced by the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services during fiscal years 1987-1990.

The research took place over a six-month period and included structured interviews with the Secretary and former Secretary of SRS and all fifteen area directors (the number has since been reduced to twelve). Informal interviews were conducted with commissioners, various program administrators within SRS, the secretaries of the related departments, and private service providers.

In addition, as part of a concurrent evaluation of the Kansas Job Opportunities and Basic Skills (JOBS) program, unstructured interviews were conducted with over fifty caseworkers in four different Kansas counties, two urban and two rural. Although these interviews were primarily designed to collect data on the implementation and performance of JOBS, the social workers and income maintenance workers interviewed volunteered significant information about the organizational culture of SRS. …

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