Volume 75, Number 5

November 2000

The Revolution in Welfare Administration: Rules, Discretion, and Entrepreneurial Government

Matthew Diller

Professor of Law, Fordham University. J.D., 1985, Harvard University.

In this Article, Professor Diller examines the tremendous changes in the administrative structure of the welfare system that have occurred since 1996. The new administrative model emerging from welfare reform eschews reliance on rules and instead invests ground-level agency personnel with substantial discretion. This shift redistributes power between welfare recipients and administrators. Central authorities continue to maintain control by channeling the discretion that ground-level officials exercise in order to achieve particular outcomes. This channeling takes place through a variety of means, including performance-based evaluation systems and efforts to redefine the institutional culture of welfare offices. These techniques are part of a broad trend in public administration that seeks to make government agencies function like entrepreneurial organizations. This new model raises serious questions of public accountability. In the new system of welfare administration, critical policy chokes are reflected in incentive and evaluation systems rather than formal rules. As policy decisions are made in ways that are less visible, there are fewer opportunities for public input. Moreover, in the new regime the efficacy of administrative hearings as a means of holding agencies accountable to recipients is diminished. Professor Diller suggests several possible means of facilitating public participation and fair treatment in this area. He concludes by urging that scholars, policymakers, and advocates focus their attention on developing new mechanisms to provide effective public participation in administrative policymaking and implementation.