Deadbeat data still overdue

  • Posted: Saturday, September 14, 2013 12:01 a.m.

When a problem goes unresolved for 16 years, it’s not merely a lingering concern. It’s an institution.

And that’s what has happened in South Carolina with a computer system that was mandated by the federal government to track down deadbeat parents by 1997.

Sixteen years and it still doesn’t work.

The problem spans the administrations of four governors. The director of the Department of Social Services in Mark Sanford’s first term declared in 2003 that fixing the system was a major goal. Easier said than done, as it turned out. Then and now.

The state’s failure to get the matter in hand has so far cost $66 million in fines to the federal government. And it has cost custodial parents child support payments they otherwise might have expected to receive.

That’s not to say that the Department of Social Services doesn’t assist in the collection of child support from deadbeat parents. Last year, the agency brought in some $250 million.

But an agency official estimates that a functional computer system, one that properly interfaces with those of other states, would bring in an additional 10 percent a year.

That is not an insubstantial sum. And presumably, it’s a percentage that the state hasn’t been able to collect for years in the absence of a working computer system.

What is additionally galling is that the systems used in all other states do the job.

Over the years, South Carolina has contracted for the system with a series of computer companies, most recently a Hewlett-Packard subsidiary. DSS recently terminated that contract and has taken over the job itself.

Based on the extended history of this failed system, that would be a reasonable start. At least it’s something different.

DSS officials attribute the problem largely to South Carolina’s complex system of handling delinquent child support payments, involving separate judicial districts and the clerk of court in each county.

The system is supposed to guarantee that wages can be garnisheed from those who owe for child support, including those non-custodial parents who live in other states.

DSS director Lillian Koller says the state has begun the process of assessing the problem in the wake of the contractor’s dismissal. Personnel experienced in systems used in other states will be hired to assist DSS.

“I’ve never felt better about the state’s ability to get the project done now that we have terminated HP and taken over the system ourselves,” Ms. Koller said Friday.

In other words, if you want something done, do it yourself.

And there will be a heightened accountability by having the state tackle the problem in-house.

After 16 years, DSS can be assured that the public will be looking over its shoulder in the expectation of a long-overdue resolution.

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