Child Support Enforcement:

Reorienting Management Toward Achieving Better Program Results

HEHS/GGD-97-14: Published: Oct 25, 1996. Publicly Released: Oct 25, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Office of Child Support Enforcement's (OCSE) management of the child support enforcement program, focusing on OCSE progress in: (1) strengthening its partnership with state and local child support enforcement programs; (2) achieving national program goals; (3) improving assessment of state program results; and (4) redesigning the federal incentive funding structure for improved state performance.

GAO found that: (1) OCSE is making progress in reorienting its management of the child support enforcement program toward program results; (2) OCSE and the states have approved 5-year national goals and objectives for increasing the number of paternities established, the number of support orders obtained, and the amount of collections received; (3) OCSE has also negotiated voluntary performance agreements with states specifying intended program results; (4) OCSE audits continue to focus on state compliance rather than on state progress in achieving program goals because of a lack of performance measures, the absence of penalties for poor-performing states, and limited staff resources; (5) the OCSE federal incentive funding structure, which is based on maximizing child support collections relative to administrative costs rather than on all program goals, limits its use as an incentive for improved results; and (6) welfare reform legislation enacted in August 1996 presents the Department of Health and Human Services an opportunity to more strongly link incentive funding with demonstrated state performance.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct OCSE, as part of its Government Performance Results Act (GPRA) efforts, to develop its own long-term management strategies, in conjunction with the states, to help increase paternities established, support orders obtained, and collections received. Such strategies should: (1) prioritize OCSE roles and responsibilities; (2) specify results that OCSE anticipates from its prioritized operations; and (3) develop performance measures for assessing its own performance.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: To strengthen the linkage between its roles and responsibilities and strategic plan, OCSE established an initiative to focus its program priorities on the eight states with the largest child support caseloads. To implement this initiative, OCSE is working with officials from the Administration for Children and Families, regional offices, and state child support enforcement programs to focus their collective efforts on achieving national program goals and implementing new requirements established by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. OCSE is also working to establish performance baselines that will enable it to track increases in child support collections related to use of the newly implemented new hire and case registry databases. OCSE, in conjunction with the states, still needs to specify the results it anticipates from this and other initiatives and measures it will use to assess its own performance.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct OCSE, as part of its GPRA efforts, to conduct program results audits of state progress toward achieving the national program goals. These audits should: (1) assess the accuracy of state-reported data; (2) investigate barriers to achieving improved program results; and (3) recommend approaches, when appropriate, for states to meet program goals.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The 1996 welfare reform legislation requires that states review and report annually on their compliance with federal program requirements. As a result, instead of conducting compliance audits, OCSE will, in accordance with the new legislation, review the states' compliance reports and provide them with comments, recommendations for corrective actions, and technical assistance, when appropriate. OCSE expects to provide technical assistance to the states based on its assessment of state program operations and performance. In this way, in keeping with the recommendation, OCSE will be determining why states have not met performance targets and providing technical assistance to help them improve their performance.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct OCSE, as part of its GRPA efforts, to include payments in the new incentive system, required by recent welfare reform legislation, that are based on state progress toward increasing paternities established, support orders obtained, and collections received.

    Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, when fully implemented, will establish a new incentive funding structure. It requires the Secretary of HHS, in consultation with the states, to develop a new incentive funding structure that provides payments to states based on performance. The act required the Secretary to report details of the new system to Congress by March 1, 1997. HHS formed an Incentive Funding Work Group that developed recommendations for a new incentive funding structure. The new structure, as proposed to the Congress in February 1997, would measure state performance in five areas: establishment of paternities, establishment of child support orders, collections of current child support due, collections of past due child support, and cost effectiveness. The revised incentive funding structure broadens the basis for awarding payments and recognizes state performance across all three major program goals established in the strategic plan.

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