Program Evaluation of Public Agency Research Proposal

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Program Evaluation

Evaluation #1'

Operation and Performance of Virginia's Social Services System

http://jlarc.state.va.us/Reports/Rpt323.pdf

Which agency is being audited?

The Virginia Social Services System provides a variety of services for the general public. The evaluation involved site visits of the 120 local departments of Virginia's Social Services. In addition, phone interviews were conducted with 27 local departments (JLARC, 2005). In addition to these procedures, the JLARC also performed an analysis of the department's financial records, human resources, caseload, and internal performance data (JLARC, 2005). Social Services in the state of Virginia are structured so that they are administered locally, with oversight on the state level (JLARC, 2005). This allows the agency to meet the needs of its local population and tailor its services to meet those needs, yet remain compliant with state requirements. Only a handful of states use this state-supervised/locally administered approach to social services (JLARC, 2005).

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Virginia provides over 50 social service programs to its citizens (JLARC, 2005). These agencies are administered on a state level by either a Commissioner of Chief Operating Officer. The Commissioner has an Advisor who reports directly to him on issues that arise within the system. Under the Commissioner's direction are the departments responsible for licensing, Child Support Enforcement, Quality Management, Audit Services, Family Services, Benefit Programs, Child Care and Development, and Community Programs (JLARC, 2005). The Chief Operating Officer is responsible for overseeing human resources Management, Information Systems, Appeals and Fair Hearings, Public Affairs, Finance, Budget, General Services, Legislative Affairs, Training, and Inter-Departmental Regulation (JLARC, 2005). These two directors use local agency administrators as consultants to help design the overall programs. Local agencies provide important feedback to those on the upper levels of the programs.

Research Proposal on Program Evaluation of Public Agency Assignment

It is important to understand the structure of the department in order to evaluate the JLARC audit. Underneath the general headings listed above, there are many other individual services and service providers. These include the Food Stamp Program, Medicaid Eligibility Determination, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Virginia Initiative for Employment, Not Welfare (VIEW), Child Care Development, Adoption and Foster Care, Child Protective Services, and Adult Service Programs (JLARC, 2005). Aside from understanding the vast array of services that the agency provides and the high degree of variation in clientele, one must also consider local population demographics in order to develop an understanding of the agency's performance.

Who performed the audit?

The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission of the Virginia General Assembly (JLARC) conduct performance audits on other agencies within the Virginia government. The purpose of these audits is to make certain that the agency is fulfilling its intended purpose. It makes suggestions as to how the agency could improve its services and operate more efficiently.

The purpose of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission is to serve as an external auditor for the agency or service. The commission consists of nine members of the House of Delegates, of which at least five serve on the House Appropriations Committee (JLARC, 2008a). It performs audits at the request of the Virginia General Assembly. The JLARC is a branch of Virginia government, receiving funds for audits from state funds set aside for that purpose (JLARC, 2008a). Audits result from an enactment of a Joint House Resolution. In this case, the audit was performed because of House Joint Resolution 193 (JLARC, 2005).

This system is designed to eliminate bias in the evaluation process. The purpose of these audits is to provide an outside opinion to the agency as to how to operate more efficiently, resulting in considerable savings (JLARC, 2008a). The audits are also for the purpose of keeping the legislature informed so that their policies are effective and reflect the current needs of the agencies and the public (JLARC, 2008). They are also intended to assure compliance with current operating standards and policies (JLARC, 2008a).

Analysis of the JLARC Audit

This audit was a result of a 2004 House Joint Resolution 193 (JLARC, 2005). It is directed by the Virginia General Assembly as a part of a continual audit process. This process consists of regular audits designed to make certain that state agencies are serving the public good. The audit process evaluates strengths and weaknesses in the agency. The purpose of the evaluation is focused on making recommendations to the agency for improving existing services.

Audits are performed at the request of the Virginia General Assembly on a regular basis. Some audit cycles are long and some are relatively short. The last complete audit performed on Social Services in Virginia was April of 1981 (JLARC, 2008b). However, audits have been conducted periodically for various aspects of the Social Services Department. Although, the report did not explicitly state the reason for the report, it is probable that the Department was due for an audit.

The audit and the Department of Social Services have many different stakeholders on many levels. Stakeholders can be divided into different categories including policymakers and decision makers, program sponsors, evaluation sponsors, target participants, program managers, program staff, contextual stakeholders, and the research community. The study was mandated and funded by the policymakers and decision makers. This group of stakeholders has a high degree of risk in the accuracy and usefulness of the report. They will take actions and make decisions based on the outcome of the findings. This group of stakeholders also serves as the program sponsor and the evaluation sponsor.

The target participants are the patrons who use the programs and services that the department provides. They did not participate directly in the study, but they will be the ones upon which the study will have the greatest impact. Although the study was conducted by an outside agency, it resembles an internal audit, rather than an external study. The impressions and feelings of the participants were not considered in the study. The target participants will receive the greatest benefit of any of the other stakeholders in the study.

Program managers and program staff will be directly affected by the results of the study. They will be ultimately responsible to enacting the changes mandated by the study. They will be the ones that have to turn theory into actions in their daily work practices and routines. A majority of the information upon which the study was based derived from program managers and staff. Their input had a direct impact on the results of the study. They will feel the direct impact of the study more than any other stakeholder group.

The Department of Social Services does have contextual groups that will be affected by the outcome of the study. However, it is difficult to define this group of independent organizations that will be affected by the study outcome. One example may be a Women's Shelter whose clients must depend on services provided by departmental agencies. These stakeholders will receive the same impact as the target participants. The study will have an impact on the research community, as it takes the results of the study and the methods as an example, for good or bad, to design future studies in other agencies and departments.

The program evaluation is both formative and summative. In the Preface of the report, Director, Philip Leone outlines strengths, weaknesses, as well as recommendations for improvement. The study found several resource issues that were found to be lacking. It found that state supervision of local departments were inadequate. The research cites weak communication between departments. These elements of the study are summative and make critical judgments about the performance of the department.

However, the study goes beyond its summative elements and provides a formative evaluation to address these issues. The study recommends comprehensive departmental changes. It provides an exact plan for addressing the weaknesses found during the audit. It suggests a top-down approach to resolving many of the issues. However, the formative evaluation also recognizes the complexity of the issue due to differences in structure among various service providers.

This study was extremely long and provided portions that could be classified as different types of evaluations. Chapter 4: Local Administrative Funding serves as a needs assessment for the different localities that are under the jurisdiction of various agencies. This chapter serves as a justification for the need to address issues within the department. It addresses population demographics that affect programs in various areas of the state.

The remainder of the evaluation was weighted towards an assessment of program theory and an assessment of program process. Much of the theory was addressed through an examination of the history of the department. The largest portion of the study focused on assessment of program process, including the processes within various individual service agencies. This study focused on internal issues within the department; therefore, it did not include an impact assessment or an efficiency assessment. The study suggests that the improvements recommended by the JLARC will have a significant positive impact on the target population, but they provide no empirical evidence to support their opinion.

Research Questions and Methodology

One of the key weaknesses of… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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