State Social Services Contracting: Exploring the Determinants of Effective Contract Accountability


  • Barbara S. Romzek,

    1. Associate dean for social sciences and a professor of public administration at the University of Kansas. Her current research focuses on public management accountability and privatization. She has consulted with national and international professional management associations and federal, state, and local governments. Romzek is a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration and corecipient of the Mosher Award (American Society for Public Administration) and the Kaufman Award (American Political Science Association). E-mail:
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  • Jocelyn M. Johnston

    1. A visiting associate professor of public administration at American University, currently on leave from the University of Kansas. Her work on intergovernmental policy and management has been published in several journals. She has served as a field research associate for the Rockefeller Institute's State Capacity Study, and is a recipient of the 2001 Kaufman Award from the American Political Science Association. Email:
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This article examines the effectiveness of contract accountability in social service contracts. The analysis is based on five case studies of Kansas contracts for selected welfare, Medicaid, and foster care and adoption services. Results indicate the state has achieved moderate to high levels of accountability effectiveness, especially in terms of specifying social service contracts and selecting appropriate accountability strategies. However, accountability is undermined by the use of risk shifting, reliance on a system of multiple competing providers, and the adoption of new information technologies. These conclusions contradict the conventional wisdom, theory, and existing research on contracting.