Child Support Enforcement:
Most States Collect Drivers' SSNs and Use Them to Enforce Child Support
GAO-02-239: Published: Feb 15, 2002. Publicly Released: Mar 18, 2002.
Congress established a national child support enforcement (CSE) program in 1965 to ensure that noncustodial parents financially support their children. In fiscal year 2000, the Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) estimated that $84 billion in past-due child support was owed, but never collected. The Social Security Act contains provisions to help child support agencies collect support when noncustodial parents or their income and assets are hard to find. The Act mandates that states enact laws requiring social security numbers (SSNs) on applications for a driver's license. State CSE programs rely on SSNs to locate the addresses, income, and assets of noncustodial parents. Motor vehicle agencies can be a valuable source of SSNs that CSE programs have difficulty obtaining elsewhere. The Act also requires that states suspend, withhold, or restrict the driver's licenses of noncustodial parents delinquent in child support payments. Most motor vehicle agencies that GAO surveyed collect SSNs from all applicants for driver's licenses, but OCSE has taken few steps to promote such collection in states not currently doing so. Although state officials and privacy experts expressed few concerns about motor vehicle agencies collecting SSNs for child support enforcement, possible weaknesses in the policies and procedures in use to safeguard SSNs indicate the potential for compromising privacy. Child support enforcement officials in 35 states told GAO that their agencies use driver's license suspension extensively, which has led to the collection of some payments.
Recommendation for Executive Action
Status: Closed - Implemented
Comments: OCSE reported that in FY 2003, it identified six states that were not in compliance with the Federal mandate that states have in effect laws requiring social security numbers to be included on various license applications. OCSE officials reported that the agency notified these states of its intent to disapprove their child support plans and cease all Federal child support funding if immediate action was not taken. In response to OCSE's actions, the six states made various changes to ensure they were in compliance. For example, two states amended their state plans to include the use of SSNs. OCSE approved these amendments in February 2004, which took effect in June 2004. OCSE determined that another state had the required legislation but had not implemented the requirement for SSNs on drivers' licenses. After receiving notice from OCSE, the state implemented the legislation in May 2004. All states are now in compliance and able to use this enforcement tool to help collect child support payments.
Recommendation: To ensure that all states are following the federal requirements that states enact and implement laws requiring the collection of Social Security numbers from all driver's license applicants for child support enforcement purposes, the Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) should more effectively track compliance with this requirement and take formal action, when necessary, against states that are not in compliance. OCSE should, for example, ensure that staff effectively use the legislative analysis checklist that is designed to track the adoption and implementation of state laws. The agency should also take formal actions, when necessary, such as disapproving state plans or conducting targeted audits, in an effort to promote compliance with this federal requirement.
Agency Affected: Department of Health and Human Services: Office of Child Support Enforcement