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Highlights

Congress established the child support enforcement program in 1975 to ensure that parents financially supported their children. State agencies administer the program and the Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) in the Department of Health and Human Services oversees it. In 2002, state agencies collected over $20 billion in child support, but $657 million in collections from 2002 and previous years were undistributed--funds that were delayed or never reached families. One method used to collect child support, intercepting federal tax refunds, involves all state agencies, OCSE, and two Department of the Treasury agencies--the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Financial Management Service (FMS). GAO was asked to address (1) how the total amount of undistributed collections changed over the years, (2) the causes of undistributed collections, (3) states' efforts to reduce these funds, and (4) OCSE's efforts to assist states. GAO analyzed OCSE data, administered a survey, visited 6 state agencies and interviewed officials.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Health and Human Services 1. To better measure the amount of and help reduce undistributed collections, the Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Commissioner of OCSE to review undistributed collections data from state agencies periodically in conjunction with one of the other routine reviews to help improve the accuracy of the data.
Closed - Implemented
To establish a routine monitoring function, the Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) convened a workgroup composed of regional and central office staff to develop a methodology for reviewing state data on undistributed child support collections. The first conference call meeting took place on May 11, 2004. According to HHS officials, methods to review the accuracy of the data must be based on associated data reporting requirements. In September 2004, the itemized Undistributed Collections (UDC) form known as the UDC Supplement to the 34-A was approved by OMB. This form provides a breakdown of UDC into sub-categories based on the reason for that line-item being undistributed. The new form, developed in partnership with the States, will greatly assist in identifying the "reason" the funds are not distributed. OCSE also developed a uniform procedure for regional offices and central office to review State UDC data on a quarterly basis. Each State's data will be examined for any illogical fluctuations and monitored by the regional office. If the data reported raises concerns, the regional office will follow-up with the State for further clarification. In situations where a State can benefit from technical assistance, the regional office along with central office will develop a plan to assist the State to develop actions and activities to reduce undistributed collections. The quarterly monitoring for UDC began for data reported July 2005. The "Accumulate Year-End Undistributed Collections as a Percentage of Total Annual Collections" measure was added to the 2005 to 2009 Child Support Strategic Plan as a measurement under Goal 4, that is, all children in IV-D cases received financial support from parents as ordered.
Department of Health and Human Services 2. To better measure the amount of and help reduce undistributed collections, the Secretary of Health and Human Services should direct the Commissioner of OCSE to work closely with the Department of the Treasury to identify a costeffective approach for obtaining information on "injured spouse" claims in order to enable collections from some joint tax refunds to reach families sooner.
Closed - Implemented
The Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) met with the Department of the Treasury several times and concluded that Financial Management Services (FMS), an agency within Treasury, will provide the additional information directly to OCSE. The two agencies discussed exactly what requirements and elements are needed and how to best transmit the information. This included a discussion to develop a methodology for providing the needed information that will involve identifying requirements for programming adjustments, testing, and migrating the enhancements into the Treasury Offset Program (TOP) production system. Treasury anticipated the implementation to be underway in early 2005. As of 2008, Treasury made the adjustments and migrated the changes to its TOP production system to identify whether an injured spouse claim was satisfied.
Department of the Treasury 3. The Secretary of the Treasury should direct the Commissioner of IRS and the Commissioner of FMS to work together with OCSE to identify a cost-effective approach for providing OCSE information needed to identify those collections that have had their "injured spouse" claims satisfied so that these collections can be distributed to families sooner.
Closed - Implemented
The Department of the Treasury's Financial Management Services (FMS) and the Internal Revenue Service have had discussions with the Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) to develop a methodology for providing the needed information. This methodology will involve identifying requirements for programming adjustments, testing, and migrating the enhancements into the Treasury Offset Program (TOP) production system. Treasury anticipated the implementation to be underway in early 2005. In 2008, Treasury reported that its Debt Management Service (DMS) had worked with the IRS, states, and OCSE to identify a cost-effective approach to identify satisfied injured spouse claims. They identified the adjustment needed, tested it, then migrated the change to the TOP system to identify whether an injured spouse claim was satisfied.

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