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A Local Programmatic Approach to Organizational Capacity: Summer Meals for Children, Federal Policy Failure, and a Threat to the Enterprise of Public Administration

PAQ, Vol. 43 No. 4, (2019)

Current proposals to devolve federal programs to states suggest local partners will continue to play a significant role in federal program delivery. Can they meet the challenge? We explore the general applicability of prior capacity research to current ground-level implementors of federal social policy—local governments, school districts, and non-profits. To do so, we bring together organizational theory, concepts of capacity, and implementation science to propose a new framework for understanding organizational capacity at the local level. We ask which types of capacity are important to program implementation, and seek to identify the ‘tipping’ point at which local organizations chose to forgo or are unable to ensure program delivery. Interviews with dozens of local partners for a struggling federal food assistance program suggest that a lack of capacity at the local level, especially financial, can threaten program implementation success to the point where local partners chose to no longer offer services. When programs fail due to program design, the enterprise of public administration is brought into question.
Keywords: organizational theory, organizational capacity, hunger, social policy, program implementation

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