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Local Vocational Rehabilitation Interagency Agreements for Employment: Partners, Collaborative Activities, and Impact

Research to Practice

Originally published: 5/2003

By: Cynthia A. Smith, Deborah S. Metzel, & Bob Schalock


Federal legislation, such as the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and state policies increasingly mandate or encourage interagency agreements and collaboration in planning and service delivery. This study was one of three conducted by the Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI) that focused on the use of interagency agreements to increase supported employment where Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) was one of the partner agencies. The first study assessed the use of agreements at the state level and found that VR agencies most often had interagency agreements with state Education, Mental Health, and Mental Retardation/Developmental Disabilities agencies (Foley, Butterworth, & Heller, 2000). The second study took an in-depth look at six agreements that had been identified as "best practices" through a national nomination process. The following factors were found to be essential to the effective implementation of interagency agreements with VR: population and task specificity, agency resource commitment, clearly delineated partner roles and responsibilities, committed state-level administrators, and strong working relationships between these administrators (Metzel, Foley, & Butterworth, 2003).

The purpose of this third study was to examine the content and impact of interagency agreements between the local office of VR and the following local state agencies for FY1999: Mental Retardation/Developmental Disabilities (MR/DD), Mental Health (MH), local schools, and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), formerly Aid to Dependent Families. VR regional directors/area administrators in each of the fifty states and the District of Columbia were surveyed to determine the:

  • The presence of local interagency agreements between VR and the agencies listed above;
  • Types of formal collaborative activities included in the interagency agreements; and
  • Perceived, local-level impacts in employment, collaboration, and cost of service provision.


For purposes of this study, local administrators were defined as the "supervisors of the front-line supervisors" within each state's VR system. Typically these administrators (hereafter referred to as area administrators) had job titles such as Area Administrator or Regional Director, and they tended to oversee multiple local offices in each state's VR system. Of the 51 VR commissioners contacted, 41 responded with the names, addresses, and phone numbers of the area administrators within the state. Surveys were sent to 232 area administrators. For states with 10 or fewer area administrators, surveys were sent to all area administrators. For states with 11-20 area administrators, surveys were mailed to 10 randomly selected respondents. For states with 20 or more area administrators, surveys were sent to a random selection of 50% of possible respondents. Area administrators completed 152 surveys for 37 states, resulting in a response rate of 66%.


To assess the presence of interagency agreements, respondents were asked which agencies had formally partnered with VR via interagency agreements and what collaborative activities were included in those agreements. Formal Partners and Types of Formal Collaborative Activities VR respondents reported 109 agreements with local schools, 94 agreements with MH agencies, 81 agreements with MR/DD agencies, and 55 agreements with TANF programs. Table 1 displays the frequency of the formal collaborative activities that were specified in the interagency agreements by agency. Though not operationally defined, the activities of "service delivery" and "coordination" were reported most often in the four partner agencies' agreements with VR. "Money transfer" was the least likely activity to be included in these agreements.

Table 1. Collaborative Activities by Agency
Activity MR/DD
(n = 81)
(n = 94)
Local schools
(n = 109)
(n = 55)
(n = 339)
Service delivery 8183 79 73 80
Coordination 69 71 76 80 74
Consultation 56 57 63 51 58
Data sharing 53 57 59 53 56
Staff training 58 60 51 4554
Case management 56 52 58 4754
Outreach 3845 52 3845
Advocacy384348 29 41
Eligibility determination46 38 45 2941
Program evaluation4344392539
Money transfer21262427241

Local Impact

The impact of the agreements on several outcomes--increased placements, improved collaboration, and cost reduction in service delivery--was a primary aim of this study (see Table 2). In general, area administrators felt that interagency agreements had "some" or "a lot of" impact on increasing placements and improving collaboration with partner agencies. The impact on increased placements as a result of interagency agreements with the other local agencies was thought to be greater than the impact associated with TANF agencies. Administrators were the most positive about the partnerships with local schools. They felt that the interagency agreements had less of an impact on cost reduction in services at this local level of service provision; however, of the four partner agencies, administrators thought that the interagency agreements with TANF had the strongest impact ("some "+ "a lot") on cost reduction.

Table 2. Comparative Impact of Interagency Agreements
Impact on:Degree of impact (%)
Increased placements Not at allSome A lot
MR/DD365 32
Local schools74846
TANF23 6215
Improved collaboration Not at allSome A lot
MR/DD 3 54 43
MH 5 50 45
Local schools 3 41 56
TANF 10 48 42
Cost reduction in service provision Not at allSome A lot
MR/DD 65 32 4
MH56 34 9
Local schools 64 27 10
TANF 49 44 8

Note: Totals do not always equal 100 due to rounding errors.


Confirming a finding from the first study in this series, schools and MH agencies were the most frequent signatories of interagency agreements with VR. The larger number of interagency agreements between local VR offices and schools may reflect both the historic push from Departments of Education for formal linkages with vocational services and the strong recent focus on transitioning students. VR had the fewest interagency agreements with TANF and the area administrators reported less of an impact on placements than they reported with the other partner agencies. This aligns with a finding that people with disabilities who left TANF roles were "less likely to be employed" than TANF recipients without disabilities and more likely than people without disabilities to potentially have no earned income (GAO 2002, 2). Given that TANF staff work with "a significant number of adults with multiple barriers to employment" (Sussman, 2000), including people with disabilities, interagency agreements and collaboration between VR and TANF offices may require more intensive efforts in both design and implementation in order to achieve the joint goal of increased employment outcomes for people with disabilities.

Overall, VR area administrators felt that interagency agreements increased the number of placements and the degree of collaboration more than they reduced costs in service provision. Reduced cost of service provision may be a longer-term outcome than increased placements and improved collaboration. However, VR area administrators thought that the interagency agreements with TANF had more of an impact on cost reduction than agreements with the other agencies.

"Service delivery" and "coordination" were the two most frequently identified collaborative activities in the interagency agreements. The intangibility of these terms may be an area of concern. These activities may need to be clearly defined to spell out exactly what services are to be delivered and exactly what constitutes "coordination" in order to better inform partners' activities and expectations and to provide some measure of accountability. Money transfer was notably the least frequently reported activity in the agreements.


Especially as federal legislation and state policies are more forcefully identifying the expectation of interagency agreements among agencies, it is increasingly important to identify successful elements in the creation and implementation of interagency agreements that result in boosting employment of people with disabilities. Understanding the interactions between area VR and partner agencies through interagency agreements and collaboration can not only improve individual employment and systems-level outcomes, but assist partner agencies to revise agency policies and practices in ways that will continue to increase the number of people with disabilities in competitive employment through true collaboration.


Foley, S. M., Butterworth, J., & Heller, A. (2000). Vocational rehabilitation interagency activity for improving supported employment for people with severe disabilities. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 15(1), 37-42.

GAO. (July 2002). Welfare Reform: Outcomes for TANF Recipients with Impairments (GAO-02-884). Washington, DC: United States General Accounting Office.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997 (IDEA). Pub. Law 105-17. Metzel, D. S., Foley, S. M., & Butterworth, J. (2003). From Paper to Action: State-Level Interagency Agreements for Supported Employment of People with Disabilities. Boston: Institute for Community Inclusion.

Sussman, T. (2000). Interagency Collaboration and Welfare Reform. Welfare Information Network Issue Notes, 4(1). Also available online at

Workforce Investment Act (WIA) of 1998. Pub L. 105-220.


This is a publication of the Center on State Systems and Employment (RRTC), which is funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research of the U.S. Department of Education under grant number H133B980037. This manuscript was based on research conducted as part of the Supported Employment Consortium at Virginia Commonwealth University, funded by the Rehabilitation Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Education under grant number H128U970003. The opinions contained in this publication are those of the grantee and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Education. This survey was approved by the Council of State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation (CSAVR), #1-00 1130 RES/APP.

The authors wish to thank John Butterworth, Susan Foley, Sheila Fesko, and Dana Gilmore, as well as Margot Birnbaum and Louise Rogowski for their assistance with many of the tasks that contributed to this brief.