Department of Human Services headquarters in Austin what to expect when they contact DHS. “I’ve had caseworkers who were real sweet. During the interview, talked about why I’d got on welfare, they really cared about me,” recalled Sheila Foscette. “And rve had caseworkers who just get you in there, ask you questions about your case, and that’s it they show no emotions whatsoever,” she said. How does the bureaucracy’s inability to understand and respond to the needs of its clients affect those Texans who depend on its services? Said Austin legal-aid lawyer Kelly Evans: “You have this constant situation where the agency in theory designed to help, people get services is looked at as an obstacle to their survival. The relationship takes on an adversarial role.” The result: many clients who are eligible for services don’t get them, and thus lose even more opportunities to get off welfare. “Remember,” Evans continued, “this is a clientele that’s not mobile. They’re dependent on buses, they have kids, they may lose income when they take time off to go get these documents. A lot of people just don’t come back. They drop out.” Mushrooming Rules , While it’s difficult for caseworkers to under stand their clients, it’s almost impossible for either group to fully comprehend the confus ing, ever-changing array of regulations, revi sions, and clarifitations cascading down from Washington and Austin particularly since the welfare reform initiatives prompted by the passage of the Family Support Act of 1988 \(see “Gaining Ground,” TO, ers who, a decade ago, had to understand four programs now must master the arcane com plexities of 18. “There’s this bewildering avalanche of information pouring into the field and not all of it gets disseminated quickly to the bottom,” said one former DHS official. “They’re too busy trying to cope with all these federal and state changes to concentrate on helping people. A lot of workers feel like they’re a part of the mushroom theory: keep ’em in the dark and throw a little shit on ’em every now and then.” Caseworkers’ alienation from the reality of their clients’ lives increases as you ascend the bureaucratic ladder. A former DHS official said that the central policy offices in Austin suffer from the opposite problem as the highturnover field offices. “The agency is by and large staffed by… homegrown talent,” he said. “There was little turnover throughout the ’70s and ’80s.” This “Austin syndrome” is the Texas equivalent of the inside-the-Beltway myopia that plagues Washington, D.C. policy makers. “If you get to a place where you think of the people you’re serving as ‘them’ and then `us’ who manage, it translates into insensitive policies and barriers,” said Tucker. “That’s how you end up with a bureaucrat who has someone fill out all these papers before he talks to her without gently finding out first if she can even read.” The sheer size \(more than 15,000 employmore tribute to the usual bureaucratic sclerosis that also insulates policy makers from the people they are supposed to assist. “When a system is really big like DHS, its goal becomes one of self-protection,” explained Tucker. “It’s purpose becomes finding another way to cover the ass of the bureaucracy instead of transforming the world. That kind of hierarchical system increases paranoia and decreases creativity,” she said. She recounted an incident in which she accidentally received the routing slip for a reply to a letter she’d mailed DHS; it had a dozen signatures on it. “A lot of people who gravitate to state office tend to be rule-oriented,” one former DHS official pointed out. “They’re not the kind of people who start questioning whether the programs are actually helping people. So rules are being devised by people in Washington and Austin who not only have been there for a long time, but they’re also people who just inherently like rules and aren’t all that eager to start re-examining the rules and saying, `How can we make this system open and accessible to those it serves?’ All bureaucracies have people like this, but welfare, because it is an incredibly rule-driven system, tends to have more than their fair share.” For DHS bureaucrats who spend their work days confined to the agency’s state headquarters in Austin, the isolation is also physi cal. The gleaming DHS office complex was completed in 1984 at a cost of $26 million. Cronies and Phonies Paradoxically, while DHS suffers from too little outside influence in its swollen middle ranks, it may have had too much at the top. After a new, reform-minded board chairman, Houston socialite Rob Mosbacher Jr. \(scion aboard in 1989, workers were optimistic that he would change the culture of the chronically inefficient, scandal-plagued agency. But while Mosbacher spouted all the right rhetoric, and, to his credit, initiated a number of badly needed reforms, his appointments to the top policy-making positions soon drew fire. “People on the inside complained that Mosbacher appointed a lot of his friends to run things,” said Filler. “His political appointees knew little about running DHS and they hired people like themselves who didn’t know how to do their jobs. By the end of ’89, the people at the bottom were appalled by the incompetence at the top, and morale just plummeted.” Even DHS spokespersons acknowledge the low morale, attributing much of it to constant attacks on welfare by the Legislature and public. “There’s only one or two people at the top of DHS at who’ve been with the agency for more than a year or two,” said Tucker. “They don’t come from backgrounds that would have provided them with the kinds of experiences to deal with the role they’ve taken on.” Advocates for the poor note that even the “reform” board of directors at DHS tried to appoint as a top administrator a political crony whose en THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7
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