Expansion of Human Services in Allegheny County Essay

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¶ … Human Services

The Expansion of Human Services in Alleghney County: A Case Study in Public Processes

Policy processes actually include "a blend of political science, sociology, and anthropology and its subject matter is the way in which policy is given shape in concrete historical processes" (Moij, 2003, p 11). It is a complicated endeavor, and when one sets out to drastically change public policy, it can be a serious effort without guaranteed success. This is exactly what Commissioner Foerster did when he made the effort to open up greater resources for the people in need in his county. Allegheny County dramatically increased its human services department and the policies associated with it from 1968 to 1995. The Commissioner believed that government needed to be more engaging with the public, and thus help provide more resources and services for those in need. He went about making huge changes to the existing public policy in order to reach his goal.

There are a number of different models to explain the nature of policy processes, each of which can be seen and analyzed using the case study. The rational model is one of the most popular perspectives when examining policy administration and its subsequent processes. Essentially, "it outlines policy-making as a problem solving process which is rational, balanced, objective and analytical," where "decisions are made in a series of sequential phases, starting with the identification of a problem or issue, and ending with a set of activities to solve or deal with it" (Sutton, 1999, p 9). As such, it is important for policy makers utilizing the rational model to think rationally; logically working out every defined step to the policy making process that would eventually lead to a practical solution to the designated problem outlined. From this, there are clearly decided steps in the process, with a reform issue first being understood, and then clear agenda, decision, and implementation phases. This "assumes that policy makers approach the issues rationally, going through each logical stage of the process, and carefully considering all relevant information" (Sutton, 1999, p 9). When the policy fails, it is not the policy itself that is blamed, but the players within it who may not have logically spelled out the problem or implemented the solutions correctly.

Although this model is simple, practical, and often effective, it can also be too narrow in order to really implement policies that work on a broader scale. Without incorporating broader elements, the policy that is made might not be able to truly solve the problem, because it has too narrow of a focus. It is not just about making a decision and implementing it, for "the job only starts after the decision is made," meaning that there is a lot of work that must be done after the implementation process to understand and work with the reaction coming from the obvious change in public policy (Moij, 2003, p 13). This was seen in the case study. Essentially, because Commissioner Foerster was working to expand public services and redistribute wealth and equality back into the community, there were a number of very abstract and complicated elements within the policy process. These often proved to abstract tow work under a strictly linear or rational model. As such, the rational model was not the best strategy for the case study at hand.

In fact, the political model seemed to be much more effective. The political model is much different. From this perspective, "the whole process is fundamentally political" and thus policy making is a political undertaking (Moij, 2003, p 8). As such, policy drafting is highly dependent on politics, and the subsequent resulting policy must support some form of political agenda. Essentially, the world of politics reduces public policy down to what will serve particular political agendas. Politicians support policies that will in turn support them and their political agendas, which might not always be in the best interest of the public in question who then has to deal with the ramifications of the changes in public policy. The research suggests that "Government officials respond to incentives and disincentives. They are unlikely to undertake policies that are generally unpopular or that will lose them powerful support. They may make deals that keep them in power and maintain revenue, votes, or whatever underlies their power" (Moij, 2003, p 15). From this perspective, it is the voter's job then to exercise their votes and get politicians into office that have their best interests in the framework of their political agendas, and that is how successful public policy processes are started. When inept politicians exercise their power in the public policy process, most likely ineffective policy will arise. Also in the political model, "pressure groups exercise a major influence over the policy process," partly because of their role and power within the political spectrum (Moij, 2003, p 15). When lobbyists and special interest groups flex their influence over politicians, they can thus influence the creation of public policy in their favor. As such, "politics is an art where players use strategically crafted argument to persuade others to adopt their policy ideas as the best solution for the distribution and redistribution of goods" (Anderson, 2009, p 91). Elements of this model can be seen in the case study at hand. Program administrators from both inside and outside Commissioner Foerster's administration lobbied for their interests to be reflected in the changing nature of policy dealing with human services. Foerster not only used his own political influence to get the drastic changes adapted, but he also listened to those special interest groups who also held influence over the politics of the county. Foerster took his own influence and blended it with like-minded supporters to develop more progressive public services for the county.

Now, the policy process model takes leave from the rational model's example, but broadens it in order to incorporate a more multi-faceted approach to designing public policy. Not everything is easily understood in such a rigid logistical manner. In fact, "in the real world the stages can and do overlap or are sometimes skipped" (Burns, 2013). Essentially, the policy process model allows for more freedom in the interpretation and implementation of policy changes. Every situation is different and utilizes different concepts and players. The policy process model expands the rational model in order to account for unique individual differences from one policy spectrum to another. Thus, there are more fluid steps to the agenda setting and policy implementation process that allow for greater adaptation of policy processes to better solve public issues. There are typically six stages in the average policy process model, which work from agenda setting to policy legitimization and implementation, but then goes further to include an objective program evaluation and policy change steps to adapt the new policy to better fit the needs of the public it is meant to serve (Burns, 2013). With this, policy leaders can be more fluid, thus coming up with broader solutions that are more tailored to an ever-changing public environment. This was the model that was also used by Commissioner Foerster. Foerster understood the complicated nature of health and human services, and he also understood how little he knew about every aspect of the policy changes he was advocating. As such, he empowered local departments to help generate ideas in a more flexible context. For example, Foerster gave Chuck Peters, the director of Mental Health / Mental Retardation great freedom in developing elements of policy changes that would impact that public sector. With the greater expertise of Peters, Commissioner Foerster then fought ardently to secure funding for Peters' ideas. Foerster continued to work with committees to pool ideas and generate much stronger and broader policy changes under the notion that "new initiatives should be built upon" (Anderson, 2009,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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