Fixing to Change: A Best Practices Assessment of One-Stop Job Centers Working With Welfare Recipients. Local Initiatives and State Systems

03/01/1999

All of the sites visited are to some degree pioneers of the One-Stop concept within their state employment systems. In most cases, the design and emergence of the local One-Stop has more to do with local initiatives than with any redesign efforts initiated at the state level. In some instances, these model sites have been useful to state officials in structuring elements of their approach to One-Stop systems. In others, systems developed locally don't always match the designs subsequently developed by the state.

  • Response to Local Crises: Most of the local One-Stop initiatives were developed in response to significant, local economic crises when a major employer or industry either shut down operations or permanently laid off large numbers of workers. In some cases, such as Kenosha and Tarrant County, the local response was initiated by the chief executive in county government. In others, such as Bellingham and Marshalltown, the response came from the local PIC or workforce development board. In Traverse City, the response was more at the regional level, spearheaded by the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments. In most cases, representatives of the partner agencies spoke highly of the vision of the founding site manager as a driving force. In some instances, difficult political decisions and third party facilitation were necessary to overcome institutional resistance to the One-Stop concept. For example, in Kenosha, the county executive replaced the PIC leadership in order to gain its cooperation in establishing the Kenosha County Job Center.
  • Local Pioneers and State Initiatives: In some cases the local One-Stops were actually established before the state created its state system for integrating employment services. For example, the client information system developed by Traverse City was used as the prototype for the development of Michigan's statewide system. In Kenosha, a well developed local data system has led local officials to continue to press state officials to adopt better performance measures. At the same time, the PIC in the Kenosha area has been reluctant to reorganize itself under the state's expectations of a regional workforce development board. In at least one other site, state expectations about One-Stop partnerships have not always meshed well with established local sites. For example, the vocational rehabilitation community has in some areas been reluctant to participate despite mandates. This reluctance is typically based on concerns about the loss of agency identity and infrastructure designated to serve this specific population. In addition, some partnerships are not considered as politically or institutionally viable at the local level as they are at the state level -- this was considered to be the case for organized labor in at least one instance.
  • Local Flexibility: Most One-Stop managers expressed some concern about their freedom to experiment and attempt innovative approaches to delivering employment services, particularly as states develop their own systems. In most cases, local managers expressed support for federal block grant proposals for employment systems, and noted that states would also do well to avoid imposing categorical or absolute system requirements on the design of local One-Stops as well. In many respects, the tensions between state and local institutions are quite similar to those between federal and state agencies, and local agencies are often asking for the same kind of flexibility from states as the states are asking of the federal government.
  • State vs. Local Service Delivery Systems: Tensions between state and local agencies seem to persist regardless of whether the primary responsibility for administering human and employment services resides with state agencies or is shared with local governments. For example, in Washington and Michigan, both human services and employment services are administered by state agencies, with JTPA programs administered at the local level via the PIC (as in most areas). For the model One-Stops examined in these states, constructive interaction between state agency personnel at the local level has been critical to integrating employment services, yet achieving that level of communication and coordination at the state level has proven difficult. Some of the rigidity in fostering collaboration between these stovepipe state agencies may be due to the range of other services they offer, such as Unemployment Insurance (UI), that may not be considered essential to the One-Stop. However, even in Wisconsin, where UI claims are handled by phone via separate call centers and the county government has responsibility for administering TANF and other food, child care, and medical assistance, local flexibility in the design of One-Stop systems is still constrained by the state.
  • Contracting Out: In Texas and Iowa, state workforce development agencies have continued to actively entertain notions of contracting out for the provision of employment services at the regional or local area, typically under the assumption that these contracts would exert competitive pressures that would improve efficiencies and lower costs. While sufficient community capacity may exist in some urban areas to make "competition" a viable option, most smaller metropolitan and rural areas do not have duplicative capacities. As a result, contracting for services typically means that many of the same people end up delivering the services under a different organizational arrangement, such as for JTPA services in Marshalltown. In Tarrant County, most of the workforce services are contracted out to public and nonprofit entities. In nearby Dallas, most of these services are contracted out to private corporations. In both of these models, contracting out does not seem to result in parallel systems that compete head-to-head, but in new organizational arrangements of the existing labor supply and other local resources. It is unclear whether these alternative organizational configurations actually result in improved service quality and/or reduced costs.

    In Kenosha, where many services are contracted out to for-profit and non-profit organizations, it is useful to note that these arrangements generally grew out of the need to find a way of delivering the desired services, rather than from any theoretical assumptions about market forces and competition. For example, assessment work is done by a separate firm, and adult education services are provided by a for-profit organization formed by former staff of a larger non-profit community organization that had been running the program when it ran into financial difficulty, necessitating termination of the contract. The community college did bid on this service, but did not offer comparable service at a competitive price. In the case of this particular service, the delivery of service appears to be highly efficient and effective.