Whether public services are better delivered through centralized or decentralized administrative systems is one of the most enduring debates in public administration. This article contributes to the debate with a study of program outcome achievement in U.S. child welfare services. We examine whether centralized state-administered or decentralized county-administered systems are more successful at realizing desired outcomes, which exhibit greater performance equity, and which are more successful at securing program outcomes in rural settings. Using a coarsened exact matching approach to quasi-experimental research, we find that centralized child welfare systems exhibit greater success at achieving desired outcomes-in both rural contexts and overall. No discernible difference is found in centralized and decentralized systems' performance equity; outcome disparities exist under both structures. The study thus lends credence to centralization arguments, but at the same time cautions that centralized administration is not a structural panacea.
Administrative (de)centralization, performance equity, and outcome achievement in rural contexts
An empirical study of U.S. child welfare systems