Associated Press

COLUMBIA — South Carolina still lacks a computer system for tracking deadbeat parents, 16 years after missing a federal deadline, as contract disputes continue and federal fines exceed $100 million.

The state has canceled its contract with Hewlett Packard and wants the company barred from winning future state contracts.

HP argues the delays are due to the state’s mismanagement, The Greenville News reported ( ).

“Time and time again, the state changed its mind with regard to the type of system it wanted, pulling the rug out from under (HP) as it tried to accommodate shifting demands and moving targets,” the company responded in documents filed with the state’s procurement office.

The latest dispute first goes before a state procurement officer next month and, if not settled there, could end up in court. The litigation will determine who must pay the federal fines that will continue until the project is complete, said attorney Marc Manos, who is representing the state.

South Carolina has long been the only state not complying with a 1988 federal law requiring a centralized computer system to enforce child support payments.

Sen. Thomas Alexander, who leads the budget panel that oversees the Department of Social Services, said he’s angry about yet another delay.

“It infuriates me. It frustrates me,” said Alexander, R-Walhalla. “How in the world we can be out of compliance when all the other 49 states are in is just beyond me.”

Escalating fines have amassed yearly since the state missed its extended 1997 deadline. To resolve its last dispute, HP agreed to cover the penalties through last June. Under last year’s settlement, the system was supposed to be working statewide this month.

Instead, the state may need to hire another contractor, Manos said.

Officials say South Carolina’s project was initially delayed because the first contractor abandoned the job in 1997, causing a flurry of lawsuits. In an agreement, the state recovered about $17.6 million. The rebid contract was initially awarded in August 2007 to Saber Corp., which was bought by Electronic Data Systems, which was then bought by HP.

As of last year, the state had been fined $104 million. The agency said then the state would end up paying $66 million in penalties, after subtracting the contractor payments. But that assumed the system would be running and fines would cease. The state’s share of the project’s then-expected $151 million cost was $50 million, with the federal government covering the rest.

The online system is meant to find parents who are behind on child support payments weeks sooner, helping children and their single parents who often struggle economically. The idea is that parents wouldn’t be able to skirt payments simply by moving out of county or state: the system would communicate electronically with other states and centralize 47 separate networks currently maintained by the agency and each county clerk of court.

The program also is expected to computerize the new hires of all employers and those collecting unemployment checks to better track someone and garnish wages — rather than requiring clerks to do the same through tedious checking of paperwork.

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