Child Support Enforcement:

Leadership Essential to Implementing Effective Automated Systems

T-AIMD-97-162: Published: Sep 10, 1997. Publicly Released: Sep 10, 1997.

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Joel C. Willemssen
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GAO discussed the results of its recent review of automated systems being developed by the states to aid in the enforcement of child support payments, focusing on the: (1) benefits that automated systems are beginning to provide, as well as the cost to date; (2) problems that impeded early progress; (3) need for stronger federal leadership; and (4) challenges posed by the new welfare legislation.

GAO noted that: (1) while automation has been beneficial in locating more noncustodial parents and increasing collections, the progress of many states in implementing automated systems has been slow; (2) at the same time, a great deal of money has been spent, with the federal government funding 90 percent of state costs associated with systems development; (3) the federal contribution, through fiscal year 1996, has been about $2 billion of the total $2.6 billion spent; (4) the lack of progress can be partly attributed to the limited leadership of the Department of Health and Human Service's Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) and the inadequate systems approaches of some states; (5) OCSE did not perform technical reviews commensurate with the size and complexity of this nationwide undertaking; (6) OCSE did not require states to follow a structured systems development approach, nor did it assess progress at critical decision points, thereby missing opportunities to intervene and successfully redirect systems development; (7) as a result, development in many states has floundered, even as funding continued to be approved; and (8) the welfare reform legislation enacted in 1996 dramatically altered the nation's welfare system by requiring work in exchange for time-limited assistance.

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