Should Government Go It Alone or With a Partner? A Comparison of Outcomes from a Work Release Program Using Different Policy Tools

Date01 July 2018
Published date01 July 2018
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 78, Iss. 4, pp. 545–555. © 2018 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.12948.
Should Government Go It Alone or With a Partner? A Comparison of Outcomes from a Work Release ProgramUsing Different Policy Tools 545
Research Article
Robert J. LaLonde (1958-2018), who
died on January 17, 2018 following a long
illness, was a leading scholar in the fields
of labor economics, econometrics, and
program evaluation. He made important
contributions to research on job training,
immigration, costs of worker displacement,
impact of U.S. unions and collective
bargaining, and economic and social
consequences of incarceration.
Deanna Malatesta is associate
professor in the School of Public and
Environmental Affairs, Indiana University
Bloomington. Her research focuses on
public management, contracts, and
Haeil Jung is associate professor in the
Department of Public Administration, Korea
University, Seoul, South Korea. His research
focuses on disadvantaged populations
and related public policy interventions.
Specifically, he has studied male and female
incarceration, obesity, early childhood
education, higher education, public pension,
and contracting out government services.
Should Government Go It Alone or With a Partner?
A Comparison of Outcomes from a Work Release
Program Using Different Policy Tools
Haeil Jung
Korea University
Deanna Malatesta
Indiana University
Robert J. LaLonde
University of Chicago
Abstract: This article compares labor market outcomes from two different approaches to a work release program in
Illinois: direct provision by a government and a purchase-of-service (POS) contract between government and a public
charity. Significantly better employment and earnings outcomes were associated with the POS contract. To better
understand the reasons for the success of the POS contract, the authors further examined the specific terms of the
contract, organizational expertise, and the political context of POS contracts. The results are organized according to
the main theoretical assertions. Findings add to the weight of evidence that contractors, like public charities, can be
valuable government partners for addressing challenging social policies and programs.
Evidence for Practice
Relational norms complement the written contract to improve contracting performance.
Commitment to resources and political support may improve contracting performance.
Public agencies can control contracting through explicit and implicit measures.
Contracting between public agencies and
private providers is not a trendy movement,
but it is a growing and persistent part of
how public agencies deliver services and products
to citizens, not only in the United States but also in
Western Europe and other regions (Cooper 2003;
DeHoog and Salamon 2002; Forrer et al. 2010;
Kelman 2002; Kettl 2000; Savas 2000). It has been
driven by the hypothesis that introducing various
forms of competition through contracting for
services encourages governments to be more efficient,
effective, and responsive to the public (Greene
2002; Peters 1996; Savas 1987). However, some of
the early contract services have been withdrawn by
governments because the benefits of contracting out
are not guaranteed and effective management of the
contracting process is difficult (Moe 1996; O’Looney
1998; Rainey 2003; Warner and Hefetz 2012). It has
been pointed out that there are often thin markets,
which results in a competitive bidding process being
unlikely in local government contracting. This is a
problem not only in the United States but also in
other countries such as China (Girth et al. 2012;
Jing and Chen 2012; Mohr, Deller, and Halstead
2010). Additionally, some stakeholders worry
that contracting out may lead to inefficient and
ineffective results, with potential loss of control and
accountability in public service delivery if public
agencies cannot monitor contractor performance well,
political favoritism becomes prevalent in bidding
process, or there are not enough bidders for public
services (Auger 1999; Breaux et al. 2002; Donahue
1989; Hefetz and Warner 2011; Joaquin and Greitens
2012; Kettl 1993; Moe 1987, 1996; Sclar 2000).
However, there is a notable lack of research comparing
outcomes when the same program is administered
by two different organizations. Moreover, scholars
concede that there is much to learn about the factors
associated with successful contracting. Despite the
research void, U.S. policy makers remain enthusiastic
about using public-private partnerships (e.g.,
Goldsmith and Burke 2009). Among the multiple
forms of contracting between government and
private providers, governments choose a purchase-
of-service (POS) contract when the main goal is
to change the behavior and circumstances of a
disadvantaged group—for instance, to implement
a work release program for prisoners (DeHoog and
Salamon 2002).
This study examines employment outcomes associated
with a POS contract offering a work release program
for prisoner. We also collect, evaluate, and compare
data from a similar program delivered directly by
the Illinois state government. To better understand
the factors that underlie a successful POS contract,
we investigate specific contract terms as well as
the organizational and political contexts. Using
econometric methods, we find that the outcomes

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