the needs of case managers at the local level -- tracking people through the system, keeping track of time limits, and offering enough flexibility to allow state and local program managers to still be innovative and even experimental, as I think a reading of the Personal Responsibility Act would suggest, is important."

Providing that level of technical assistance isn't easy, Gais pointed out. "It would be difficult even if you had EDS, McDonald Douglas and Honeywell all working on it. But it is something that has to be done."

One thing Gais' research group is discovering is how different each state welfare reform program is developing. "They are all over the map," said Gais. "Wisconsin and Michigan are very different, for example, in what they want to do. Michigan is very happy to have lots of people on their welfare roles. Whereas in Wisconsin, their primary goal is to reduce their roles and dependency. But Michigan, on the other hand, wants to have a high participation rate in work activities. Different legislative structures have an impact on what kind of information systems they need. So there is a lot of complexity.

"I don't mean to suggest that HHS can solve all these problems. They cannot solve all these problems; but I do think there has to be genuinely collaborative problem solving going on involving federal, state and perhaps even local government in some cases."

The realities of the tremendous IT task ahead suggest that the best kind of technical assistance from HHS would be this joint problem solving, especially if HHS helped to find ways to reduce system development costs by assisting different regions or groups of states to pool efforts in creating common system components.

Beyond this, in its role as facilitator, HHS might find ways to organize research data that other organizations -- like the Urban and Rockefeller Institutes -- are collecting. The Urban Institute, for example, has launched a $30 million multi-year research project, the largest project in the Institute's 29-year history, that will monitor, document, analyze and report on the unfolding decentralization of social programs as responsibilities shift from the federal government to the states.

"There is a need for continuing best practices advice," said Gais. "Private research organizations currently doing work on welfare reform may move on to something else. What the feds have to do is draw on work such as ours and the Urban Institute's, as well as their own expertise, to develop a continuing capacity for putting together all this complicated information about problems and solutions."

More information on welfare reform research is available from and .

January Table of Contents

Blake Harris  |  Editor