Research note. The Bite of Administrative Burden

Research note by Carolyn J. Heinrich

Political leaders and the public have long disparaged the “wearing friction” or costs of interacting with government and have called for the public sector “to make its business less unbusinesslike” (Wilson, 1887: 201, 203). These “onerous” encounters with government and policy implementation that individuals experience in seeking public benefits or services have been described as “administrative burden” (Burden et al., 2012: 742). In a recent article in the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, I draw on a framework first set forth by Kahn et al. (1976) to broaden this conceptualization of administrative burden — beyond bureaucratic encounters where the person initiating the transaction is outside the organization (e.g., an individual applying for public benefits) — to include burdens imposed on citizens through, for example, the enforcement of laws by government (e.g., voter identification requirements), compliance conditions and other “reciprocal expectations” (Lipsky, 1984) associated with interactions with bureaucracies. One can also consider how encounters between persons or entities outside the bureaucracy might contribute to administrative burden, through, for example, lack of outreach on the part of public entities that allows misinformation to circulate among citizens and create inadvertent barriers to accessing public services. Importantly, however, this broader framework for analyzing bureaucratic encounters can also be applied in thinking about how to better structure interactions between individuals and public bureaucracies so as to alleviate or abate administrative burdens and improve governmental effectiveness.

One predictable and frequent finding of studies that have assessed the costs of administrative burden is that program access (or take up of benefits) is constrained and low, and some research has directly linked administrative burden to disconnections from or denial of benefits (Bennett, 1995; Currie, 2006; Shore-Sheppard, 2008; Wallace, 2002). Furthermore, research shows that the costs and consequences of administrative burden fall disproportionately on the poor and disadvantaged who have fewer personal resources to draw on in navigating administrative burden and responding to procedural demands (Bendick et al., 1978; Cherlin et al., 2002; Super, 2004). In this research, I sought to make two important contributions: (1) to extend the empirical investigation of administrative burden beyond concerns about access to and efficiency of public services to questions of individual and societal impacts, and (2) to go beyond the typical U.S. or developed country context to examine this phenomenon in a developing country setting (i.e., a large social protection program in South Africa), where the “bite” of administrative burden may potentially be bigger.

Administrative problems in social cash transfer programs have been well-documented by the International Labor Organization (Tabor, 2002), including: excessive administrative costs; poor staff remuneration; neglect of compliance and enforcement functions; difficulties in record-keeping; excessively complex procedures; delays in processing benefit claims; and inadequate attention to ensuring that applicants understand program rules and requirements. All of these problems were present in South Africa’s Child Support Grant (CSG) program, a means-tested, unconditional cash transfer program that is paid to a child’s parent or caregiver with the objectives of reducing poverty among children. Furthermore, numerous program changes over time and the challenging context in which the CSG was implemented exacerbated administrative burdens that ultimately contributed to substantial variation in timing and length of grant receipt among CSG beneficiaries, which was in turn used for empirically estimating program impacts and the potential for administrative burden to moderate them.

In my empirical analysis, I generated measures of the “intended” CSG “dose” or months of grant receipt that would have been received for children if they had not experienced administrative burdens, grant interruptions or disconnections from the CSG (in error) and also calculated the dose lost due to these problems (an average of 20 months for all youth in the sample). I examined the implications of dose loss for youth outcomes in adolescence, focusing in particular on youth risky behaviors, which research has shown vary with household consumption expenditures and income shocks and could be mitigated by cash transfer programs (Yeh, 2006). More specifically, I matched youth based on the total months of CSG they were eligible to receive and then estimated the consequences of losing cash transfers due to administrative burden on their engagement in risky behaviors.  The results show that female adolescents were significantly more likely to have abstained from sex (predicted probability of 5.5 percentage points higher); to have had fewer sex partners and to have refrained from criminal activity (by 13.4 percentage points) if their receipt of cash transfers was not interrupted. In addition, the highest grade completed for females increased by about one-fifth of a grade if their receipt of the CSG was not interrupted. Male adolescents, in turn, had a lower predicted probability of abstaining from sex (by 7.7 percentage points) and refraining from alcohol use (by 8.7 percentage points) and were significantly more likely to start alcohol at an earlier age if their benefits were stopped in error.

These findings confirm potentially high costs associated with administrative burden in programs serving the poor. The South African CSG is not unique among cash transfer programs in its relatively complex and demanding requirements for application, long waits at social welfare offices with limited service hours, and other infrastructure and capacity problems that may have contributed to misapplication of program rules and uneven coverage as the program was expanded. In fact, as the South African government sought to address these problems, taking actions to improve the CSG application process and better communicate changes in program rules and procedures, lower rates of disconnections and interruptions of grant receipt were observed over time. Going forward, governments implementing social welfare programs could use the framework and results presented here to anticipate sources of administrative burden and identify ways it could be reduced, enabling them to take early and aggressive steps to, for example, ensure that application requirements and processes are as simple and transparent as possible; that front-line staff administering the programs understand and are committed to applying program rules fairly; that updates to program requirements get communicated quickly and clearly, and that local infrastructure is used to communicate with and support the eligible population’s efforts to successfully complete the application process and maintain access to benefits. Continuing efforts to expand empirical investigations of administrative burden and its implications within this broader framing of the problem and in other unexplored contexts would also deepen our understanding of these issues and the policy and administrative responses that might circumvent negative consequences.

Lastly, to the extent that this research might spur additional exploration of the potential costs to government and society (not only individuals) of tolerating or even inducing administrative burden in both developed and developing country contexts, it could possibly alter future political debates about the tradeoffs or harm associated with administrative burden. A recent article in The Economist (2015: 54) described these types of administrative burdens as “ordeal mechanisms,” implying that they are constructed to deter applications to social welfare programs from the less needy. At the same time, the story also acknowledged that “the tougher the ordeal, the greater the number of needy candidates who will fail to qualify.” If future research can quantify, as done here, the costs of those foregone benefits — such as the diminution of children’s health and well-being and their longer-term consequences for society — this issue might be construed in a different light in policy discussions and decision making to come.

 

About the Author

carolyn-heinrich

Carolyn J. Heinrich is Professor of Public Policy, Education and Economics at Vanderbilt University, Peabody College of Education and Human Development, Department of Leadership, Policy and Organizations.

Personal webpage

 

Tables

Table 1. Predicting Disconnections and Interruptions from the CSG

tab1_Heinrich

 

Table 2. Predicting Bad Stops from the CSG

tab2_Heinrich

 

Table 3. Effects on the Interruptions and Problematic Disconnections from CSG on Adolescent Outcome

tab3_Heinrich

 

References

  • Agüero, J., Carter, M., & Woolard, I. (2007). The Impact of Unconditional Cash Transfers on Nutrition: the South African Child Support Grant. Brasilia: International Poverty Centre Working Paper #39, September.
  • Álvarez, C., Devoto, F. & Winters, P. (2008). Why do Beneficiaries Leave the Safety Net in Mexico? A Study of the Effects of Conditionality on Dropouts, World Development, 36(4), 641-658.
  • Alexander, J.A., Lemak, C.H. (1997). Director’s perceptions of the effects of managed care on outpatient substance abuse treatment. Journal of Substance Abuse 9:1–14.
  • Baldwin, J.N. (1990). “Perceptions of Public Versus Private Sector Personnel and Informal Red Tape: Their Impact on Motivation.” American Review of Public Administration 20:7-28.
  • Bastagli, F. (2009). The Role of Conditional Cash Transfers in Welfare State Development in Latin America. Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE), London School of Economics and Political Science, Working Paper No. 60, December.
  • Bendick, M., Lavine, A. & Campbell, T.H. (1978). The anatomy of AFDC errors. Washington, DC: Urban Institute.
  • Bennett, S. (1995). “No relief but upon the terms of coming into the house”—Controlled spaces, invisible disentitlements, and homelessness in an urban shelter system. Yale Law Journal, 104, 2157-2212.
  • Bozeman, B.; Reed, P.; and Scott, P. (1992).  “Red Tape and Task Delays in Public and Private Organizations.” Administration and Society 24:3:290-322.
  • Bozeman, B. (1993). A theory of government “red tape”. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 3(3), 273-303.
  • Bozeman, Barry, and Mary K. Feeney. (2011). Rules and red tape: A prism for public administration theory and research. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe.
  • Brodkin, E. Z. (1997). Inside the welfare contract: Discretion and accountability in state welfare administration. Social Service Review 71:1–33.
  • Brodkin, E. Z., & Majmundar, M. (2010). Administrative exclusion: Organizations and the hidden costs of welfare claiming. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 20, 827-848.
  • Buchanan, B. (1975). “Red Tape and the Service Ethic: Some Unexpected Differences between Public and Private Managers.” Administration and Society 6:4:423-44.
  • Burden, B., Canon, D., Mayer, K. & Moynihan, D. 2012. The effect of administrative burden on bureaucratic perception of policies: Evidence from election administration. Public Administration Review 72:741–51.
  • Case, A., Hosegood, V. & Lund, F. (2005). The reach and impact of the child support grant: evidence from KwaZulu-Natal. Development Southern Africa, 22(4):467–482.
  • Cherlin, Andrew J., Karen Bogen, James M. Quane & Linda Burton. (2002). Operating within the rules: Welfare recipients’ experiences with sanctions and case closings. Social Service Review 76: 387–405.
  • Cohen, J. M., Grindle, M. S., & Walker, S. T. (1985). Foreign aid and conditions precedent: Political and bureaucratic dimensions. World Development, 13(12), 1211-1230.
  • Currie, J. (2006). The take-up of social benefits. In A. Auerbach, D. Card, & J. Quigley (Eds.), Poverty, the distribution of income, and public policy (pp. 80–148). New York: Russell Sage.
  • Davis-Nozemack, K. (2012). Unequal Burdens in EITC Compliance. Law and Inequality: A Journal of Theory and Practice, Vol. 31: 37-75.
  • de Janvry, A. & Sadoulet, B. (2006) Making conditional cash transfer programs more efficient: Designing for maximum effect of the conditionality, World Bank Economic Review, 20(1), pp. 1-29.
  • Devereux, S. (2002). ‘Social Protection for the Poor: Lessons from Recent International Experience’, IDS Working Paper 142. Brighton, UK, Institute of Development Studies.
  • Department of Social Development, South African Social Security Agency and UNICEF. 2011. Child Support Grant Evaluation 2010: Qualitative Research Report. Pretoria: UNICEF South Africa.
  • Department of Social Development (DSD), South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) and UNICEF. 2012. The South African Child Support Grant Impact Assessment: Evidence from a survey of children, adolescents and their households. Pretoria: UNICEF South Africa.
  • Evan, W. M. The Organization-set: Toward a Theory of Interorganizational Relations.  In J.D. Thompson (ed.), Approaches to Organization Design.  Pittsburgh, PA: The University of Pittsburgh Press, 1966.
  • Feeney, M. K. (2012). Organizational red tape: A measurement experiment. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 22(3), 427-444.
  • Goldblatt, G., Rosa, S. & Hall, K. (2006). Implementation of the Child Support Grant: A Study of Four Provinces and Recommendations for Improved Service Delivery. Johannesburg: Centre for Applied Legal Studies, University of the Witwatersrand, and Cape Town: Children’s Institute, University of Cape Town.
  • Heinrich, C. J., Hoddinott J. & Samson, M.  (2013). “The Impact of South Africa’s Child Support Grant on Schooling and Learning.” Working paper, International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, DC.
  • Heinrich, C.J., Shager, H. & Burkhardt, B. (2011). “Reducing Child Support Debt and Its Consequences: Can Forgiveness Benefit All?”  Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Vol. 30, No. 4, 755–774.
  • Herd, P., DeLeire, T., Harvey, H. & Moynihan, D. P.  (2013). Shifting Administrative Burden to the State: A Case Study of Medicaid Take-Up. Public Administration Review.73, no. s1 (2013): S69–S81.
  • Hernanz, V., Malherbet, F. & Pellizzari, M. (2004). ‘Take-Up of Welfare Benefits in OECD Countries: A Review of the Evidence’, OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers 17. Paris, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
  • Hirano, K., & Imbens, G.W. (2004). The propensity score with continuous treatments. In A. Gelman and X. L. Meng (Eds.), Applied Bayesian Modeling and Causal Inference from Incomplete-Data Perspectives (pp. 73–84). West Sussex, England: Wiley InterScience.
  • Kahn, R., Katz, D., & Gutek, B. (1976). “Bureaucratic Encounters— An Evaluation of Government Services.” The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science 12(2): 178-198.
  • Kalichman, S.C. & M. Kaufman. (2007). Alcohol Use and Sexual Risks for HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa: Systematic Review of Empirical Findings.  Prevention Science 8:141–151.
  • Lawrence, P.R. & Lorsch, J.W. Organization and Environment. Boston: Harvard Business School, Division of Research, 1967.
  • Lemak CHAlexander JA, & Campbell C. (2003). Administrative burden and its implications for outpatient substance abuse treatment organizations. Psychiatric Services. 54(5):705-11.
  • Leroy, J. L., Ruel M. & Verhofstadt E. (2009). “The Impact of Conditional Cash Transfer Programmes on Child Nutrition: A Review of Evidence Using a Programme Theory Framework.” Journal of Development Effectiveness 1(2): 103-129.
  • Lineberry, R. (1977). American Public Policy: What Government Does and What Difference it Makes. New York, NY: Harper& Row.
  • Lipsky, M. (1984). Bureaucratic disentitlement in social welfare programs. Social Science Review, 58, 3-27.
  • McEwen, H., Kannemeyer, C. & Woolard, I. (2009). Social Assistance Grants: Analysis of the NIDS Wave 1 Dataset. Discussion Paper no. 10, July.
  • Mirugi-Mukundi, G. (2009). Realising the Social Security Rights of Children in South Africa, with particular reference to the Child Support Grant. Research report prepared for the Socio-Economics Rights Project of the Community Law Centre, South Africa.
  • Morojele, N. K., Kachieng’a, M. A., Nkoko, M. A., Moshia, A. M., Mokoko, E., & Parry, C. D. H.  (2004).  Perceived effects of alcohol use on sexual encounters among adults in South Africa. African Journal of Drug and Alcohol Studies, 3: 1–20.
  • Moynihan, D. P., Herd P. & Rigby, E.  (2013). Policymaking by Other Means: Do States Use Administrative Barriers to Limit Access to Medicaid? Administration & Society, doi:10.1177/0095399713503540.
  • Moynihan, D. P., Herd P. & Harvey, H.  (2014). Administrative Burden: Learning, Psychological, and Compliance Costs in Citizen-State Interactions. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, doi:10.1093/jopart/muu009.
  • National Income Dynamics Study (NIDS) (2009). Southern African Labour and Development Research Unit (SALDRU) and University of Cape Town.
  • Pandey, Sanjay K., and Patrick G. Scott. 2002. Red tape: A review and assessment of concepts and measures. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory 12:553–80.
  • Patel, L.  (2011). South Africa Child Support Grants Chapter 16 in Sharing Innovative Experiences:  Successful Social Protection Floor Experiences, International Labor Organization, Volume 18: pp. 363-384.
  • Pettifor A.E., B.A. Levandowski, & C. Mcphail.  (2011). “A tale of two countries: Rethinking sexual risk for HIV among young people in South Africa and the United States. Journal of Adolescent Health 49: 237-43.
  • Presthus, R. (1962). The Organization Society. New York: Knopf.
  • Pugh, D.S., D. J. Hickson, C.R. Hinings & C. Turner. (1969). The Context of Organization Structures.  Administrative Science Quarterly 14 (1): 91-114.
  • Rosenfeld, R. A. (1984). An expansion and application of Kaufman’s model of red tape: The case of community development block grants. Western Political Quarterly 37:603–20.
  • Rosenbaum, P. R. & Rubin, D. B. (1983). The central role of the propensity score in observational studies for causal effects. Biometrika, 70 (1), 41–55.
  • Samson, M., Heinrich, C. J. & Regalia, F.  (2011). Impacts on Children of Cash Transfers in South Africa. In Social Protection for Africa’s Children, Sudhanshu Handa, Stephen Devereux and Doug Webb, editors, pp. 117-146.
  • Sekhon, N. S. (2011). Redistributive policing. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 101(4), 1171-1226.
  • Soss, J. (1999). Lessons of Welfare: Policy Design, Political Learning, and Political Action. The American Political Science Review, 93(2), pp. 363-380
  • Soss, J., Fording, R. & Schram, S. (2011). Disciplining the poor: Neoliberal paternalism and the persistent power of race. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
  • Scott, P. G. (1997). Assessing determinants of bureaucratic discretion: An experiment in street-level decision making. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 7, 35-58.
  • Shore-Sheppard, L. D. (2008). Stemming the tide? The effect of expanding Medicaid eligibility on health insurance coverage. BE Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, 8, Article 6.
  • Super, D. A. (2004). Offering an invisible hand: The rise of the personal choice model for rationing public benefits. Yale Law Journal 113:815–93.
  • Tabor, S. (2002). Assisting the Poor with Cash: Design and Implementation of Social Transfer Programs. Social Protection Unit Human Development Network, The World Bank.
  • The Economist (2015). “Targeting Social Spending: Casting a Wide Net.” January 10, pp. 53-54.
  • UNICEF (2005). The “Rights” Start to Life: A Statistical Analysis of Birth Registration 2005. New York: UNICEF.
  • Weber, M. 1946. “Bureaucracy,” in Hans Gerth and C. Wright Mills: From Max Weber, New York: Oxford University Press, Inc.
  • Wilson, W. (1887). The study of administration. Political Science Quarterly 2 (2):197-222.
  • Wallace, J. (2002). Work support centers: A framework. New York: MDRC.
  • Yeh, E (2006). Commercial Sex Work as a Response to risk in Kenya. University of California, Berkeley Dissertation in the Department of Economics.
  • Zembe-Mkabile, W., Doherty, T., Sanders, D., Jackson, D., Chopra, M., Swanevelder, S., Lombard, C. & Surender, R. (2012). Why do families still not receive the child support grant in South Africa? A longitudinal analysis of a cohort of families across South Africa. BMC International Health and Human Rights 2012, 12:24.