Article 11 Sec. 1 (a) of the California Constitution says: "The State
is divided into counties which are legal subdivisions of the State". Always a dynamic relationship it began to deteriorate in 1978 with the passage of Proposition 13. Although serving the very important purpose
of capping run away property tax increases, Prop. 13 also severed the
relationship between local revenues, and state mandated programs, and
permanently muddled any relationship between responsibility, accountability
As an arm of the State of California, Counties are the principal
deliverers of Federal and State Health and Human Services programs. As such
both have an important stake in the results of the billions of dollars that are
spent in each year in California. Equally important then is the question raised
by the LAO in the 1993 study, titled Making Government Make Sense. The six
principles outlined in the report are even more relevant almost 20 years later:
1. Determine who will exercise program
2. Link program control and funding.
3. Pay attention to incentives.
4. Consider cost-effectiveness.
5. Address physical capacity.
6. Provide for fiscal capacity.
Today, we must add "structure the relationship to improve
The Challenge: Construct a state-county relationship that improves
It is urgent today that the Governor and the Legislature seize this
latest opportunity to make basic structural changes in the way services are
delivered to the people of California; and more importantly construct a delivery system that
that benefit the recipients of the programs provided.
The challenge is very clearly laid out in a study done by Margaret
Dunkle, in 2002 for George Washington University and the Children’s Planning
Council of Los Angeles County. The attached Chart identifies the manner in
which 40+ Federal/State programs affect families in LA County. Each line represents categorical funding
streams, statutory requirements and the rules and regulations implementing
them. It begins with the Federal Congressional decision making system and
trickles down to state, localities and communities that must comply with
different and often conflicting eligibility requirements, definitions, funding
calendars, reporting guidelines and planning requirements for each program-even
programs that do virtually the same thing for virtually the same people.
Put yourself in the position of the county social worker, the child
protective services worker, the probation officer, the cal works worker, or any of the
thousands of non-profit workers who provide these critical services on behalf of the
counties. How could you possible achieve any reasonable outcome for children,
families, or even individuals with the spaghetti weave of rules and
Imagine also what years of working in such a complex system has done
to the county organizations trying to provide the services. It has resulted in
silo thinking not systems thinking. It has provided no incentives for
collaboration between workers of different programs. Confidentiality rules reinforce the
separation of programs from individuals. As a result it is difficult, if not
possible to measure results.
What were the barriers to accomplishing our goal?
No matter how good the effort is in county land it is simply not
possible to be successful in producing desired outcomes in the current
categorical, rule driven, silo-thinking system that exists. Any current
realignment of programs must include the flexibility for county Boards of
Supervisors to provide services that improve outcomes for families and
children. Categorical funding streams should be replaced with the flexibility
to use funds as needed not simply as directed. Similarly it should not be
necessary for the state to micro manage individual programs when the people who
are on the front line are experts in the delivery of the services. The current dysfunctional system has not
produced results of which anyone can be proud.
In Los Angeles County outcome-based accountability is called
"Performance Counts" and is intended to answer two questions; 1) Are we doing
the right stuff: 2) Are we doing it in the right way? The first requires the
adoption of program results and indicators; and the second requires operational
measures. The first should be a shared focus of both the State and Counties,
and the second could be a local requirement.
Government does a good job of passing laws and writing rules – but not
as good job of implementing them; in part because they are complex; in part
because they are not adopted in a comprehensive framework focusing on results;
and in part because each level of government wants to ensure the one below it
carries out the generally singular program exactly the way it is told to do so
(not a small part of this is based on the concept that " it is my money and I
will tell you how to spend it"). In actuality all people want is for all levels
of government to produce positive results with the taxes they receive.
calls this Smart Government: To bring about real change the public can believe
in, rather than micromanaging from the capitol, the state needs to help
communities improve outcomes by providing stable and dedicated funding streams
establishing outcome standards, and encouraging all communities to improve
We all rely on government to provide essential services, and elected
officials have a fundamental obligation to make sure programs work well. To improve
outcomes in education, social services, criminal justice, and other programs,
local leaders responsible for delivering those services need the authority and
the resources to get the job done, so Californians-as citizens and voters-can
hold them accountable for results".
A recommendation to the Legislature and the Governor
1. Link Authority and Responsibility. Empowering communities requires local governments to have authority that is commensurate with the
2. Redefine the role of state agencies and
departments. The state
role should focus on outcomes, providing information and best practices. It should
toward eliminating statutory and administrative barriers that preclude
county collaboration among programs.
3. Assign adequate and reliable funding. The
control over how resources are spent to achieve outcomes must be aligned with program authority. A funding
system that gives discretion over the allocation of dollars, but also
considers differing needs across the state, would provide financial incentives
This is an edited version of testimony
presented to the Senate Governance and Finance Committee, January 26, 2011