A Long Road to Health for Failed California Child Support Project

A Long Road to Health for Failed California Child-Support ProjectEight months after the state of California nixed a $277 million deal with Lockheed Martin Corp. IMS to operate the state's Statewide Child Support System (SACSS), state and industry executives are still toiling under the wary eye of state legislators to finalize an alternative architecture for the system."We've come up with a plan that has been debated significantly in the legislature, which has been very active in telling us how they want us to move forward with child-support processing," said Gerri Magers, chief deputy director of the state's health and welfare data center in an interview.

The current plans calls for creating a consortium of county systems that would feed financial and case management files from all other county child-support systems into a central node. But there are differences of opinion over how many counties should participate in the central consortium, according to Magers.

"The administration wants to have a consortium of seven county systems that serve to connect all other California counties. Those seven counties would then be interfaced into a single system," she said. But the legislature wants to see that number cut almost in half, with only four counties feeding into the central node. "They also want us to look into doing a feasibility study to determine the best solution in terms of a long-term system for California," she said.

The legislature is nearing completion of its fiscal year 1999 budget process, and in a "matter of days" is expected to send down final word on the number of county systems that will play into the central site.

But the state legislature is not the only entity that wants to see California simplify its child-support system model, Magers said. "The federal government too would like to see a consortium with as few counties as possible." In fact the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services only recently decided to allow a consortium model such as the one California is working toward. A congressional bill passed this summer "allowed for approval and funding for this type of system. But I will not tell you that it is an easy approval process," Magers said.

Because of all the changes counties have endured due to the failed Lockheed Martin project, state administrators want to minimize any further changes. "The reason we want seven is that right now, 58 percent of the counties are now converted, and the conversion process is a significant issue in this environment," Magers said.

When the Lockheed contract was canceled, 18 counties had to be moved off the SACSS system. Six counties are still on it, and it will take state officials — who are using the California multiple-award schedule to support the transition — until December to complete that migration.

Meanwhile, the state is still embroiled in litigation with Lockheed over costs the contractor says it is owed. California is not only fighting to withhold outstanding payments but to recoup some of the investments it made in SACSS. Magers said she expects the litigation will not be resolved in less than 12 months.

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