By David Janssen, former Chief Executive Officer of Los Angeles. More stories at

Article 11 Sec. 1 (a) of the California Constitution says: “The State is divided into counties which are legal subdivisions of the State”.  Always a dynamic relationship it began to deteriorate in 1978 with the passage of Proposition 13.  Although serving the very important purpose of capping run away property tax increases, Prop. 13 also severed the relationship between local revenues, and state mandated programs, and permanently muddled any relationship between responsibility, accountability and resources.

As an arm of the State of California, Counties are the principal deliverers of Federal and State Health and Human Services programs. As such both have an important stake in the results of the billions of dollars that are spent in each year in California. Equally important then is the question raised by the LAO in the 1993 study, titled Making Government Make Sense. The six principles outlined in the report are even more relevant almost 20 years later:

1. Determine who will exercise program control.
2. Link program control and funding.
3. Pay attention to incentives.
4. Consider cost-effectiveness.
5. Address physical capacity.
6. Provide for fiscal capacity.

Today, we must add “structure the relationship to improve outcomes.” 

The Challenge: Construct a state-county relationship that improves outcomes.

It is urgent today that the Governor and the Legislature seize this latest opportunity to make basic structural changes in the way services are delivered to the people of California; and more importantly construct a delivery system that delivers outcomes/results that benefit the recipients of the programs provided.

The challenge is very clearly laid out in a study done by Margaret Dunkle, in 2002 for George Washington University and the Children’s Planning Council of Los Angeles County. The attached Chart identifies the manner in which 40+ Federal/State programs affect families in LA County.  Each line represents categorical funding streams, statutory requirements and the rules and regulations implementing them. It begins with the Federal Congressional decision making system and trickles down to state, localities and communities that must comply with different and often conflicting eligibility requirements, definitions, funding calendars, reporting guidelines and planning requirements for each program-even programs that do virtually the same thing for virtually the same people.

Put yourself in the position of the county social worker, the child protective services worker, the probation officer, the cal works worker, or any of the thousands of non-profit workers who provide these critical services on behalf of the counties. How could you possible achieve any reasonable outcome for children, families, or even individuals with the spaghetti weave of rules and regulations?

Imagine also what years of working in such a complex system has done to the county organizations trying to provide the services. It has resulted in silo thinking not systems thinking. It has provided no incentives for collaboration between workers of different programs.   Confidentiality rules reinforce the separation of programs from individuals. As a result it is difficult, if not possible to measure results.

What were the barriers to accomplishing our goal?

No matter how good the effort is in county land it is simply not possible to be successful in producing desired outcomes in the current categorical, rule driven, silo-thinking system that exists. Any current realignment of programs must include the flexibility for county Boards of Supervisors to provide services that improve outcomes for families and children. Categorical funding streams should be replaced with the flexibility to use funds as needed not simply as directed. Similarly it should not be necessary for the state to micro manage individual programs when the people who are on the front line are experts in the delivery of the services.  The current dysfunctional system has not produced results of which anyone can be proud.

In Los Angeles County outcome-based accountability is called “Performance Counts” and is intended to answer two questions; 1) Are we doing the right stuff: 2) Are we doing it in the right way? The first requires the adoption of program results and indicators; and the second requires operational measures. The first should be a shared focus of both the State and Counties, and the second could be a local requirement.

Government does a good job of passing laws and writing rules – but not as good job of implementing them; in part because they are complex; in part because they are not adopted in a comprehensive framework focusing on results; and in part because each level of government wants to ensure the one below it carries out the generally singular program exactly the way it is told to do so (not a small part of this is based on the concept that ” it is my money and I will tell you how to spend it”). In actuality all people want is for all levels of government to produce positive results with the taxes they receive.

California Forward calls this Smart Government: To bring about real change the public can believe in, rather than micromanaging from the capitol, the state needs to help communities improve outcomes by providing stable and dedicated funding streams establishing outcome standards, and encouraging all communities to improve results.

We all rely on government to provide essential services, and elected officials have a fundamental obligation to make sure programs work well. To improve outcomes in education, social services, criminal justice, and other programs, local leaders responsible for delivering those services need the authority and the resources to get the job done, so Californians-as citizens and voters-can hold them accountable for results”.

A recommendation to the Legislature and the Governor

1. Link Authority and Responsibility. Empowering communities requires local governments to have authority that is commensurate with the responsibility for improving outcomes. 

2. Redefine the role of state agencies and departments. The state role should focus on outcomes, providing information and best practices. It should work toward eliminating statutory and administrative barriers that preclude county collaboration among programs.

3. Assign adequate and reliable funding. The control over how resources are spent to achieve outcomes must be aligned with program authority.  A funding system that gives discretion over the allocation of dollars, but also considers differing needs across the state, would provide financial incentives for cost-effective implementation.