New York City’s VendorStat initiative for social services: An interview with Swati Desai, Senior Fellow, Rockefeller Institute of Government, State University of New York – Episode #81

DesaiHow can public agencies give contractors — such as social service providers — more flexibility to design their own strategies while also ensuring greater monitoring of, and accountability for, results? We examine New York City’s efforts to do just that in the area of welfare-to-work services through its VendorStat initiative.

Starting in the 2000s, welfare-to-work services in the city were provided under pay-for-performance contracts between the city (the Human Resources Administration or HRA) and nonprofit and for-profit service providers. Those providers are given a great deal of flexibility in terms of the approaches they can use to help clients get and keep jobs. At the same time, HRA closely monitors the operations and performance of those providers through VendorStat.

To learn more, we’re joined by Swati Desai, a former Executive Deputy Commissioner at HRA, who helped develop HRA’s performance management system. Today she is a senior fellow at the Rockefeller Institute of Government at the State University of New York as well as an affiliated scholar with the Urban Institute.

Our interview focuses on how a city or other jurisdiction that uses contractors to provide services can advance the goals of flexibility and strong accountability. It is beyond the scope here to examine the broader question of whether New York City’s approach of using nonprofits and for-profits to provide services was effective or not, versus other alternatives.