Welfare Reform: Improving State Automated Systems Requires Coordinated Federal Effort

HEHS-00-48 Published: Apr 27, 2000. Publicly Released: Apr 27, 2000.
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GAO reviewed states' efforts to meet the information needs associated with welfare reform, with a focus on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), focusing on the: (1) extent to which automated systems in selected states meet key information needs of programs that help low-income individuals with children obtain employment and become economically independent; (2) approaches states are using to develop or modify their automated systems to better meet these information needs; and (3) major obstacles states have encountered in working to improve their automated systems as well as the potential role of the federal government in helping overcome these obstacles.

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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Health and Human Services The Secretary of Health and Human Services should establish an interagency group to identify, and develop implementation for, federal actions that would facilitate states' efforts to improve their automated systems for federal programs that serve low-income families. The group should include high-level federal officials from the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Labor, and other federal agencies as appropriate. The interagency group should obtain input from state and local social program and information technology managers. The group could also seek input from others, such as state organizations, professional organizations of social program officials, and welfare researchers. In addition to any actions that the interagency group identifies on its own, the group should consider actions in the following areas: (1) disseminating information on best practices for managing information technology generally and best practices specific to automated systems that support welfare reform; (2) reviewing, and modifying as needed, the federal process for systems procurement to ensure that it meets federal needs for state accountability without unnecessarily hindering state development efforts; (3) facilitating links among the automated systems used by different state and local agencies through such means as supporting demonstrations designed to promote better partnerships between state and local agencies and coordinating data reporting requirements for different federal programs; and (4) addressing the need for states to have access to cross-state information on individuals' TANF receipt to enforce the 5-year TANF time limit.
Closed – Implemented
As recommended by GAO, HHS formed an interagency group to identify actions to help promote excellence in state systems development, and improve the effectiveness of automated systems for human services. The group has been meeting regularly since May 2000, and includes representatives from HHS' Administration for Children and Families and its Health Care Financing Administration, Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service, and the Department of Labor. The group's initial efforts focused on reviewing and modifying the federal process for systems procurement, and disseminating information on best practices for managing information technology. In its September 2000 response letter to OMB and Congress, HHS said that it expects that initial work group accomplishments will be available within the next 6 to 12 months. In 2001, the work group developed several options for improving the federal process for systems procurement, but had not recommended which, if any, of these should be implemented.

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