April 20, 2014
Final Reports
San Mateo Courts - Civil Grand Jury

2001 Final Report:

Human Services Agency Client Benefits Accountability

Summary | Background | Findings | Recommendations | Responses

Summary:

The 2001-2002 Grand Jury reviewed the budget process of the Human Services Agency (HSA) from the perspective of both the HSA budget division and the County Manager's Office. The HSA is in the second year of implementing an Outcome Based Management (OBM) budget process, which ". . . is designed to challenge the county agencies to deliver services with the best use of their resources."

The Grand Jury attempted, without success, to follow the budget of HSA from the money source to distribution to an individual client. The Grand Jury found there are more than 175 funding sources directed to 125 programs. The Federal and state governments supply the overwhelming majority of these funds, which the County audits pursuant to Federal and state standards. County general funds spent for HSA, such as General Assistance, are more closely scrutinized.

A goal of HSA is to make information about its client support and finances more readily available and more easily understood. At this time it is difficult to track the services an individual client receives, the programs that provide those services, and the sources of funding.

Issue:

1. Is the Human Services Agency (HSA) on track to attain its goal to make the Outcome Based Management (OBM) budget process understandable so that the public can:

(1) gauge the needs of, and the services available to, individual clients and
(2) interpret and evaluate the department's fiscal operations?

2. Could improvements in HSA's computer systems produce:

(1) more complete and readily understandable financial information, and
(2) a method to more easily track services to individual clients?

Background:

HSA, with a budget of $141 million in FY 2000-2001, funded, managed, or staffed more than 125 programs to provide services to 144,890 individuals. Examples of the programs are: job training, alcohol and other drug treatment and prevention, MediCal, General Assistance, food stamps, child welfare, cash assistance program for immigrants, CalWorks, and housing assistance. The goals of HSA are to promote individual self-sufficiency, increase family strength and stability, and improve community health.

OBM is a process of aligning program outcomes and resources to San Mateo County's "Visioning Goals". Staff from HSA and community organizations work together to determine the programs that are needed and then evaluate program performance. HSA executive staff and operational teams prioritize programs and determine what will be included in the budget. Federal and state funds, which comprise the overwhelming majority of HSA's budget, are dedicated to particular programs and cannot be shifted to other uses by HSA.

Findings:

HSA provides multiple services in satellite locations throughout the county for the convenience of its clients. The 2001-2002 Grand Jury toured several HSA office-training centers and interviewed personnel who provide services to clients.

The Grand Jury interviewed both HSA budget staff and the budget staff of the County Manager's Office. In examining HSA's OBM budget the Grand Jury found it difficult to follow the finances from the funding source to the individual client or particular area of need. The OBM objectives show no apparent link to budget line items, which is in contrast to the linkage between desired outcomes and program budgets that the Grand Jury learned were in use by Sunnyvale, California, Coral Springs, Florida and other municipalities. The Grand Jury found that with the current computer system, determining what benefits a client receives from each program is extraordinarily difficult. It appears that only those programs funded by the county General Fund are given the highest level of scrutiny by the county personnel.

One of the goals listed in the "Process Overview of the County Budget Process" is that the budget is to be a communication device to enable the layperson to readily understand the process and changes to it. HSA employees are encouraged to be able to quickly provide information about the budget and specific budget changes. The Grand Jury found that it took several weeks for HSA, the County Controller's office, and the County Manager's Office to provide requested information in a format readily understandable by a layperson.

The Grand Jury interviewed the CALWORKS Information Network (CalWin) staff. CalWin is a consortium of 18 California counties developing a new computer system that will reportedly help improve customer service and case management. It will either replace or be integrated into the two computer systems currently used by HSA. It is an interactive system that will automatically determine client eligibility and employability, as well as calculate and issue benefits. The CalWin program, which is financed primarily by Federal and state funds, is in the testing stage. HSA expects to complete implementation by January 2004. The program appears planned from a management perspective with minimal input from front line employees who will actually be using the system. The Grand Jury is concerned that the program will not facilitate an understanding of financial information nor allow one to determine client benefits.

Recommendations:


1. HSA should clearly describe in its budget the relationship between its clients' needs, its client benefits, and the funding sources, so that the budget: (a) serves HSA's goal of a communication device, and (b) allows the public and its elected representatives to readily determine whether HSA is providing services in an efficient and effective manner.

2. HSA should continue to upgrade its computer systems to make its financial information more readily understandable.

Response
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