A frequent problem for government agencies today is the combination of declining financial resources and an increased need for services. Congress may make political capital out of the need to cut the 'fat' from government and reduce the national debt, but agencies are still subject to demands that they serve their functions. The recent recession has seen a sharp drop in available funds through taxes and increased demand for social services for the unemployed.
When administrative agencies are not watchful, it is very easy for their purpose to be lost, and the focus to shift to processes rather than to results. "Public sector safety professionals must be relevant, results-oriented and purpose driven" (Fanning n.d). The most important focus of the agency must be on extending entitlement benefits to the populations that need to be served, not simply to support the continued existence of the program. The initial instinct of the bureaucracy may be to preserve itself and to preserve jobs, but the fact is that personnel downsizing is necessary. The agency must 'do more with less.'
Creative administrative thinking is required. The agency must work with local and state entities to 'pick up the slack' in terms of providing services and funding, given the federal mandate to reduce staffing. One example of a creative way to use small amounts of money in an effective way is manifested in Oakland, California. "The Family Independence Initiative, a nonprofit...Its purpose is to encourage low-income families to form small groups and help each other figure out how to get ahead. The families meet monthly and keep journals, charting their progress on income, savings, education -- all the signposts of a successful life. For this, each family gets a laptop computer and an average monthly stipend of $160. The key is that the families also get to set their own goals" (Fessler 2012:2). The program is inexpensive and requires little manpower to run and has also been proven effective in helping participants out of poverty.
Although the agency is a federal program, working with states and local entities that better understand the populations' needs can result in improved services, when a program is tailored to the needs of the community in a very specific fashion. For example, in some communities, the reasons for unemployment may be rooted in the fact that the community was hard-hit by the recession in critical economic sectors. This is the case in Oregon, where the logging industry experienced setbacks due to the fallout in the construction industry from the burst of the housing bubble. Retraining for jobs with better immediate prospects can be critical in such instances. In other communities, such as inner cities, there may be critical shortages of jobs and under-education due to longstanding cultural and economic factors that are not directly related to the national economy. General job training and life skills programs may be more appropriate. Such flexibility and the need for dialogue with the community served requires government bureaucracy to overcome its rule-bound nature, and focus more on objectives rather than upon conforming to standard operating procedures (Rosenbloom 144).
Specific, targeted and flexible efforts are needed to help communities. Federalism is not a system in which the federal government dictates policy in a unilateral fashion and the states follow. Instead, there must be a dialogue between the state and local entities. Medicaid, for example, is the poverty healthcare program that is funded by the federal government, but states set specific provisions as to what constitutes poverty and what additional groups (such as women with children) may also need the assistance of the program. Ultimately, the U.S. must operate along the principles of cooperative federalism, or the idea that the different levels of government work in harmony, not in competition, to achieve the same objectives (Conlan, cited in Stillman, 121).
Accountability and setting clear, determined benchmarks for improved performance and fiscal responsibility are necessary aspects of managing private enterprise. These same ideals are increasingly being applied to federally-administered bureaucratic programs. Regardless of the wisdom of this decision, this is the reality of life today and administrative agencies must be responsive to demands for change.
Fanning, Fred. (n.d.). Public sector safety professionals: Focused on activity or results? Best of the Best Newsletter. Retrieved: http://www.asse.org/practicespecialties/publicsector/docs/PSPS%20Best-of-the-Best%20Newsletter%20Article%202006-2007.pdf
Fessler, Pam. (2012). Struggling families lift themselves out of…