Welfare Reform:

HHS' Progress in Implementing Its Responsibilities

HEHS-98-44: Published: Feb 2, 1998. Publicly Released: Mar 4, 1998.

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Jane L. Ross
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) implementation of the mandates resulting from the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, focusing on the: (1) extent to which HHS reduced its full-time equivalent (FTE) staff levels to the levels prescribed by the law; (2) clarity, timeliness, and usefulness of HHS' guidance and technical assistance to the states in implementing the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program; (3) status of HHS' work in establishing performance measures to use in implementing the high-performance bonus program; and (4) status of HHS' welfare research and evaluation efforts.

GAO noted that: (1) between August 1995 and July 1997, HHS reduced by 245 its authorized FTE level for programs that were connected to block grants, and it reduced its authorized FTE level for managerial positions by more than 60 within the Department; (2) HHS achieved the 245 FTE reductions by reassigning almost three-quarters of them to other programs; (3) through GAO's survey, it found that states are generally satisfied with HHS' guidance but are concerned about the delay in TANF regulations, which HHS plans to issue in spring 1998; (4) HHS concedes that its rulemaking process to issue the regulations is lengthy because it requires the Department to obtain comments from many interested groups; (5) in the absence of regulations, states reported difficulties in designing and implementing their programs; (6) HHS missed the statutory deadline for implementing the high-performance bonus program; (7) while the law requires HHS to have implemented this program by August 1997, HHS is still writing regulations that will define the specific measures against which states are to be assessed; (8) HHS does not expect to issue final rules for the high-performance bonus program until the end of fiscal year (FY) 1998; (9) HHS attributes the delay to the inherent difficulties in developing performance measures; the large number of groups with whom HHS consulted, including advocacy and local government groups; and its limited number of staff with which to develop both TANF and bonus program regulations; (10) however, to be eligible for FY 1999 bonus money--the first year bonuses will be distributed--states are required to submit FY 1998 data; (11) HHS' funding for its welfare research generally follows the mandates outlined in the law; (12) a key effort for HHS in meeting these mandates is continuing the evaluations of state programs that were granted waivers from requirements that applied under the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program; (13) of the $44 million appropriated to Administration for Children and Families in FY 1997 for research, approximately $9 million has been awarded to 17 states for waiver evaluations; (14) several of these states will be evaluating the effect of time limits and mandatory work requirements on their programs, as well as other topics; (15) in addition to the waiver evaluations, HHS has awarded approximately $12 million for studies of employment issues focused on welfare and former welfare clients; and (16) technical assistance to states and child impact studies are other areas of research that were funded.

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