Assessment of City of Austin Social Service Contracting Practices
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This Applied Research Project utilizes an extensive literature review to examine all facets of government social service contracting practices. A preliminary framework is developed and utilized as a tool to analyze the performance of the City of Austin’s Health and Human Services Department’s (HHSD) social service contracting processes. Interview questions are developed based on the preliminary framework, and in depth interviews conducted with high-level HHSD staff serve to illuminate the intricacies of contracting practices. City documents including staff manuals, contracts, and audits are used to verify and expand on information obtained through interviews.
Topics used for analysis include social service contracts and performance measurement practices, contract development, activities prior to contracting, competitive process, and contract monitoring. Based on the information collected through structured interviews and reviews of official documents, the City of Austin appears to have processes in place that enable the department to utilize best practices in almost all areas of social service contract management. Extensive documentation in staff manuals for operations, solicitation documents, and contracts provide clarity and consistency in the process. In addition, HHSD has extensive checks and balances included in the oversight of contract compliance practices while also operating with a very low overhead cost. During interviews, HHSD staff demonstrated a commitment to maintaining collaborative relationships with social service agencies while also conducting monitoring processes designed to ensure protection of taxpayer investments in the community. Given that all documentation and interviews were obtained directly through the Health and Human Services Department through structured interviews and official documents, there is inherent bias in this study. Future research should incorporate the perspective of social service providers and clients of social services funded by the City of Austin.