In Chapter II, we discussed the usefulness of narrowing or prioritizing the list of outcomes covered in welfare reform evaluations. Many states have proposed follow-up surveys, in large part to respond to the broad array of outcomes they have been required to examine in the terms and conditions for federal waivers. We recommend that surveys be used more judiciously. In particular, we recommend that states consider other sources of administrative data that may be available as alternatives to surveys; examples include vital statistics and school records. Obtaining information from administrative systems outside the welfare agency presents many challenges, including confidentiality; however, such alternatives may provide more reliable data at lower cost. We also recommend that surveys focus on a few selected topics (except in particularly large or important evaluations, where it makes sense to invest the resources for a broader survey). The goals of a survey should be clearly stated and attainable with the resources planned; poorly designed surveys may be costly but yield little reliable information.
DHHS could help to ensure that particular topics are covered in a similar manner in states that are attempting to tackle similar problems; one approach would be to promote joint effort in instrument design. A good example of how the federal government has played such a role is the demonstrations of cashing out Food Stamps in the early 1990s; the Food and Nutrition Service funded development of a common food use instrument for evaluations in three states.