Hearing on No-Cost Improvements to Child Support Enforcement
COMMITTEE ON WAYS AND MEANS
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED TWELFTH CONGRESS
COMMITTEE ON WAYS AND MEANS
WALLY HERGER, California
|SANDER M. LEVIN, Michigan
CHARLES B. RANGEL, New York
FORTNEY PETE STARK, California
JIM MCDERMOTT, Washington
JOHN LEWIS, Georgia
RICHARD E. NEAL, Massachusetts
XAVIER BECERRA, California
LLOYD DOGGETT, Texas
MIKE THOMPSON, California
JOHN B. LARSON, Connecticut
EARL BLUMENAUER, Oregon
RON KIND, Wisconsin
BILL PASCRELL, JR., New Jersey
SHELLEY BERKLEY, Nevada
JOSEPH CROWLEY, New York
JENNIFER M. SAFAVIAN, Staff Director and General Counsel
SUBCOMMITTEE ON HUMAN RESOURCES
ERIK PAULSEN, Minnesota
|LLOYD DOGGETT, Texas
JIM MCDERMOTT, Washington
JOHN LEWIS, Georgia
JOSEPH CROWLEY, New York
C O N T E N T S
S. Kay Farley
Executive Director, National Center for State Courts
Director, Office of Child Support, Michigan Department of Human Services
Chief Information Officer, Trial Court Information Services, Massachusetts Court System
Hearing on No-Cost Improvements to Child Support Enforcement
U.S. House of Representatives,
Committee on Ways and Means,
The subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 2:01 p.m., in Room 1100, Longworth House Office Building, Hon. Geoff Davis [chairman of the subcommittee] presiding.
[The advisory of the hearing follows:]
*Chairman Davis. Thank you for joining us today. Today we are going to review several no‑cost ways to improve the Nation’s child support enforcement program so more children can benefit from child support. These changes should have broad bipartisan support and hopefully can proceed to the House floor in the coming weeks.
The child support enforcement program was created in 1975 in order to reduce public expenditures on welfare. By obtaining support from non‑custodial parents on an ongoing basis and helping non‑welfare families get support, more families could stay off public assistance.
Today this State‑administered program has grown to serve all families that request services, and is estimated to handle 60 percent of all child support cases. It results in $26.6 billion in child support collections involving 15.9 million unique cases.
To carry out this work, States and Territories receive over $4 billion annually in Federal administrative funds, which covers approximately two‑thirds of the total cost of the operating system. With the help of the experts who will testify today, we will review several no‑cost ways to improve the child support enforcement program, increase child support collections, and better serve both families and taxpayers.
One way to increase collections and ensure that more children living in the United States receive the financial support they deserve is through ratification of the Hague Convention on the International Recovery of Child Support and Other Forms of Family Maintenance. That is a mouthful, but it really boils down to stepped‑up efforts to collect support when one parent lives outside of the United States.
Before our subcommittee is the implementing legislation for the Hague Convention, which has bipartisan support, would have no cost for taxpayers, and is expected to increase collections in such cases. That will both help more children and reduce the need for taxpayer support in the form of welfare checks.
Another way to increase collections is to increase the subcommittee’s bipartisan efforts to standardize data and improve the exchange of data within and across programs. The child support system already heavily relies on data exchanges, but it is important for those efforts to be consistent with our data standardization progress involving child welfare, TANF, and unemployment programs so we can improve the overall efficiency of government programs.
Continuing on the data exchange theme, we will also consider an Administration proposal to allow researchers access to data in the National Directory of New Hires, a database maintained by the child support enforcement program. This will help in evaluating whether employment programs are working as intended.
This is a classic example of what we hope will happen as we increase the exchange of data; we can use the data we already have in smarter ways to help evaluate and improve government programs so they work better for intended recipients and taxpayers alike.
We look forward to all of the testimony today. And we also look forward to working with our colleagues to improve how this program serves the children and families who depend on it, as well as ensuring it efficiently and effectively uses taxpayer dollars.
Before we move on to our testimony, I want to remind our witnesses to limit their oral arguments to five minutes. However, without objection, all of the written testimony will be made part of the permanent record.
On our panel this afternoon, we will be hearing from Kay Farley, Executive Director of the National Center for State Courts; and to introduce Marilyn Stephen, the director of the Office of Child Support in the Michigan Department of Human Services, I would like to recognize the chairman of the full committee, Mr. Camp, who shares a home state with Ms. Stephen.
And now I would like to recognize our full committee ranking member ‑‑ Mr. Levin is not here.
I would like to recognize Chairman Camp to say a few words.
*Chairman Camp. Alright. Well, thank you, Chairman Davis. And again, I would like to welcome Marilyn Stephen, director of the Michigan Office of Child Support, to the hearing today.
Marilyn has served as director of the Office of Child Support since 2002 after having been an assistant prosecuting attorney in the child support division of the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney in Jackson, Michigan for several years. And as a proud resident of Michigan myself, I want to thank Marilyn for her many years of service to our great state.
I would also like to take this opportunity to recognize the efforts of the Michigan Department of Human Services, which includes the Office of Child Support, under the leadership of Maura Corrigan and Brian Rooney. As a former State Supreme Court Justice and the current director of the Michigan Department of Human Services, Maura Corrigan has worked tirelessly to ensure the well‑being of children in Michigan.
I want to specifically highlight her work in child support enforcement, particularly to increase collections. Through her efforts, Maura has focused on the broad strategies of prevention, collaboration, and enforcement as a way to address the challenges and consequences of an underground economy.
And finally, I would like to mention Brian Rooney, who is the brother of Florida Congressman Tom Rooney and deputy director of the Michigan Department of Human Services. I want to thank him both for his past service in the Iraq War and present service to our State as deputy director, where he is not afraid to ask the hard questions and make sure that kids are first.
We are certainly lucky to have three such outstanding individuals working for the residents of the State of Michigan, and we are honored to have Ms. Stephen before the committee today to testify about improving child support enforcement programs and drawing on her extensive experience in Michigan.
So thank you, Chairman Davis, and I yield back.
*Chairman Davis. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Also, we have with us Craig Burlingame, the chief information officer with Trial Court Information Services in the Massachusetts Court System; and Gordon Berlin, president of MDRC.
I would now like to recognize my good friend, Mr. Lewis from Georgia, representing Ranking Member Doggett today.
*Mr. Lewis. Thank you very much, Chairman Davis. Thank you for calling this bipartisan hearing. As you know, unfortunately Ranking Member Doggett is not able to attend today’s hearing because his flight into D.C. was canceled due to storms. I would like to applaud you both for coming together yet again to address pressing issues before the subcommittee.
We all know that a parent’s responsibility to his or her children does not end at our borders. That is why States seek an agreement with other countries to collect child support from non‑custodial parents. Unfortunately, this State‑by‑State approach leaves out many States, and the different legal procedures and standards can be costly and create loopholes and confusion.
A better approach would be for the United States as a whole to enter into a broader convention or treaty to ensure the international collection of child support. This way, we can move away from the piecemeal process and get everyone on the same page. I hope today’s discussion will guide us in the right direction.
Hopefully, we can craft bipartisan legislation that would ensure our child support system can fully comply with such a treaty. This will lead to more children getting the financial support they need and deserve.
Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Doggett and I look forward to continuing to work with you and other subcommittee members as we move forward with this important piece of legislation. Thank you very much again, Mr. Chairman.
*Chairman Davis. Thank you, Mr. Lewis.
And with that, one vote has been called. We are going to temporarily recess the hearing for about 15 minutes, and then we will be back to pick up with the testimony of the witnesses and questions.
*Chairman Davis. We will go ahead and reconvene the hearing now. Thank you again for your flexibility and patience.
We are going to go ahead and begin with witness testimony. Ms. Farley, you may proceed with your testimony. And again, I would just remind the witnesses that we would ask you to keep it to five minutes, and that will allow more time for questioning by the members afterwards.
STATEMENT OF S. KAY FARLEY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NATIONAL CENTER FOR STATE COURTS
*Ms. Farley. Chairman Davis and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today regarding implementation of the Hague Convention on International Recovery of Child Support and Other Forms of Family Maintenance. I am speaking today on behalf of the National Child Support Enforcement Association, and NCSEA thanks you for holding this hearing.
International child support enforcement is increasingly more common and important in our global society. By way of background, the U.S. has not joined the two prior child support treaties because of fundamental differences in how jurisdiction is obtained over parties in child support matters.
Unlike the U.S., other countries do not require due process protection sufficient to meet the U.S. constitutional standards. The U.S. has dealt with international cases by negotiating bilateral agreements with individual countries. While these bilateral agreements have been beneficial, procedures and forms vary from country to country.
The Hague Conference on Private International Law established a special commission in 2003 to develop a new child support treaty, which would modernize the existing system and encourage global adoption. This effort offered the opportunity to craft a new treaty to which the U.S. could participate.
The objective of the Convention is to ensure effective international recovery of child support. The Convention creates four main measures to achieve that objective: establishing a comprehensive system of cooperation between the participating countries; making applications available for the establishment of parentage and child support matters; providing for recognition and enforcement of foreign support orders; and requiring effective measures for prompt enforcement of foreign support orders.
The Convention should result in more children receiving the financial support they need from their parents, regardless of where their parents live. While the U.S. courts and child support agencies already recognize and enforce most foreign child support orders, other countries have not recognized and enforced our orders. They will have to do so once they and the U.S. ratify the Convention.
The Convention’s procedures are similar to those procedures already in place for processing interstate cases in the United States. Many of the provisions of the Convention are drawn from the U.S. experience with the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act, or UIFSA. The Convention will not affect the handling of our domestic child support cases; it will only apply to cases where the custodial parent and child live in one country, and the non‑custodial parent lives in another.
International child support cases will be processed under existing U.S. Federal and State law and practice. Compliance with the obligations under the Convention will require minimal changes to the U.S. law. My written testimony provides information on key provisions to the Convention. You will note that for all of these provisions, they are consistent with current policy and practice in the U.S.
Let me briefly talk about how the Convention would be implemented in the U.S. The Uniform Law Commission developed and approved the 2008 UIFSA amendments to comply with the terms of the Convention. The intent is for Congress to require States to adopt these amendments verbatim or lose Federal funding.
The 2008 amendments were limited only to those changes required to comply with the Convention. Existing Articles 1 through 6 were modified to include foreign support orders, where procedures handling Convention cases would be the same as for handling domestic cases. The amendments do include a new Article 7, which will apply only to international cases and address those requirements unique to the Convention.
Let me turn now to why the U.S. should implement the Convention. In a world where an increasing number of U.S. children have a parent living abroad, this Convention is needed so that all children will receive the child support that is so vital to their financial well‑being.
The Convention resolves the jurisdictional barriers that prevented the U.S. from joining the prior child support treaties. The Convention offers the U.S. the opportunity to join a multilateral treaty, saving the time and expense that would be otherwise required to negotiate individual bilateral agreements with countries.
The Convention provides a structure and uniform procedures to increase the efficiency and effectiveness in processing international cases. And, lastly, the Convention provides for access to cost‑free or low‑cost services for legal assistance to U.S. custodial parents.
NCSEA expressed its strong support for the Convention in a resolution which was adopted in August 2008. I also want to advise you that the Convention has widespread support from State organizations such as the Conference of Chief Justices, the Conference of State Court Administrators, the Uniform Law Commission, and the American Bar Association.
Thank you for the opportunity to present this testimony and for your consideration of our recommendations. Thank you.
[The statement of Ms. Farley follows:]
*Chairman Davis. Thank you, Ms. Farley.
Ms. Stephen, please proceed.
STATEMENT OF MARILYN STEPHEN, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF CHILD SUPPORT, MICHIGAN DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES
*Ms. Stephen. Thank you very much, Chairman Davis and members of the subcommittee, for this opportunity. As you know, I am the director of the Michigan Office of Child Support, but I am speaking to you today on behalf of the many child support professionals across the country who are members of National Child Support Enforcement Association.
Michigan passed the first child support law in 1919 to permit local governments to assure support for the children in their communities. The drafters of that law would never have dreamt that in 2012, there would be 750,000 court‑ordered child support cases in Michigan, and that one in three children would be spending a part of their childhood living with only one parent.
Those same drafters would not have recognized a world where something oddly named a tweet can circle the globe in seconds, and American citizens can travel thousands of miles from home in just a few hours.
In the last 60 years, it has become commonplace for parents and families to move from state to state. In many ways, the child support programs kept pace with these changes in society. First, Congress required States to enact the Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act in the 1950s that set some ground rules for assuring financial support for children no matter where in the country the parent lived.
As the migration of families across the country continued and child support programs in the State swelled, problems arose with the processing of interstate cases that finally precipitated a complete redesign in the 1990s, resulting in the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act. This law has been a great success in helping States to provide coordinated services consistently and efficiently to ensure that children receive the support that they need.
Now we are on the verge of the next big step forward with the Hague Convention and implementing legislation that we are discussing today. To help you understand how important this step is to the States, I would like to tell you a little about the problems we face in trying to assure support for the children of Americans around the world.
There are basic issues related to the translation of documents and currency exchange rates. But there are also fundamental differences in processes, jurisdictional understandings, the services provided in different countries, and even the basic definitions of who will be served.
My front‑line staff in Michigan report constant issues with trying to locate parents in other countries that owe child support; concerns about how notice to that parent, or what we in this country would call due process or even service of process, is accomplished; and the amount of time it takes to start support payments flowing to the parent who is raising the child.
It is commonplace to hear that families have had to wait five years or more for a support obligation to be established, and this is with countries that we have agreed to work with through bilateral agreements. To me, the bilateral agreements are analogous to the old interstate laws of the 1950s. They are certainly better than nothing, but they do not establish any rules or mutual understandings about the work that needs to be done or the goals that should be accomplished.
When our workers attempt to coordinate with officials in countries where we lack bilateral agreements, we generally receive no response whatsoever, or we are instructed to hire a lawyer in that country. Because most parents cannot afford to go down that path, the child support case ends up being closed until the support obligor leaves the safe haven of that country. The Hague Convention would fix this problem by requiring free services in most instances.
In Michigan, we estimate that we have between 4‑ and 5,000 cases where a parent lives in another country. That includes more than a thousand cases with Canada, with whom we share a 700‑mile border. International cases can be challenging and very time‑consuming for workers because there are no agreed‑upon standard proofs, forms, or methods of communication. For this reason, I believe adoption of the Hague Convention and the enabling legislation would actually result in a cost savings to the States.
Earlier I called this a big step. But all the States understand that we will not see instant benefits from these improvements. We also know with certainty that not moving down this road to international cooperation will likely mean that more American children will lack the basic support that every parent should provide, and that more obligors will seek out those safe havens. Simply put, children need the support of both parents no matter where in the world their lives take them.
Thank you very much for your consideration of this important children’s issue.
[The statement of Ms. Stephen follows:]
*Chairman Davis. Thank you very much, Ms. Stephen.
Mr. Burlingame, you can give your testimony.
STATEMENT OF CRAIG D. BURLINGAME, CHIEF INFORMATION OFFICER, TRIAL COURT INFORMATION SERVICES, MASSACHUSETTS COURT SYSTEM
*Mr. Burlingame. Thank you, Chairman Davis, members of the subcommittee. Thank you for the opportunity to testify on the important issue of technology standards in child support enforcement. My name is Craig Burlingame, and I am the chief information officer for the Massachusetts Trial Court. I testify today with over 30 years of information technology experience in State and local government.
In addition to my day job, I have the privilege of serving as the chairman of the Court Information Technology Officers Consortium, or CITOC. CITOC is a national organization of technology professionals in courts, with active members in over 40 States. CITOC provides our members with a forum through which we can exchange information, ideas, and share our collective experiences.
Throughout my career, I have had the chance to observe the benefits that can be realized from the implementation of technology standards like those I believe are contemplated by your legislation. Good standards establish a technological vocabulary that allow various parties with different perspectives to speak in the same language when discussing electronic information and data exchange.
Further, the existence of quality standards provide a level playing field for the vendors that provide software and services to government entities that choose to use them. If a vendor is asked to implement a system in adherence to referenced standards, some of the uncertainty that exists in government procurements can be eliminated or at least reduced.
As importantly, once a vendor has implemented a system in compliance with standards, the effort needed for subsequent implementations is reduced, preventing agency after agency from having to pay for customized systems, at least in those areas that are covered by the standards.
One need look no further than public safety for longstanding examples of where standards have established a vocabulary to the benefit of taxpayers. Both with the FBI’s NCIC system and the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System, or NLETS, States and municipalities have been able to exchange information using standards for decades with these systems. In both of these cases, a vibrant and robust vendor community sells software and hardware solutions to criminal justice agencies nationwide that interoperate with NCIC and NLETS.
When an agency purchases a system, they need only indicate to a prospective vendor the nature of the business they wish to transact and reference the applicable standards. In the case of the court community, the OASIS Electronic Court Filing standard has been evolving since it was first developed in 2001.
In its most recent version, the ECF standard covers not only court filings but the electronic service of parties, and encompasses a variety of case types. This standard, which is now being used by courts and vendors in jurisdictions throughout the country, has been updated in its most recent version for compliance with NIEM, the National Information Exchange Model, which is contemplated by your legislation as well. When the Commonwealth recently issued an RFI for electronic filing, in our conversation with prospective vendors we were able to talk to them about how we expected the software to use ECF standards to transact business with our established case management system. Most vendors selling electronic filing products today understand exactly what that means and what is necessary for their software to use these standards.
And, as importantly, many of the vendors in the e‑filing space have already built the software needed to interface with existing systems using ECF standards. As a result of this, the cost to implement such interfaces is minimal compared to the cost of developing customized solutions from scratch.
Although I am not testifying today on behalf of NIEM, I certainly am testifying in support of NIEM. The NIEM model is now being used in many aspects of government around the country, and not just within the justice community. As you may know, NIEM currently has 12 different domains, including children, youth, and family services.
Because we in the courts deal with matters that come before us from a wide range of other governmental agencies and areas, we would hope that any standards developed in the child support enforcement area would be developed using the NIEM framework. I have included in my written testimony a few examples of where NIEM is being used successfully in the court community today, as well as information on what we are doing in Massachusetts.
In conclusion, I believe the legislation that you are contemplating today is helpful and important, and I would encourage the committee to continue to advocate for the use of technology standards in the future. Such standards can reduce the cost of systems and increase the likelihood of interoperability among systems. The use of technology standards can indeed establish a common vocabulary for all to use in facilitating good and efficient government. Thank you.
[The statement of Mr. Burlingame follows:]
*Chairman Davis. Thank you very much, Mr. Burlingame.
STATEMENT OF GORDON L. BERLIN, PRESIDENT, MDRC
*Mr. Berlin. Chairman Davis and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the invitation to testify today. My remarks focus on the research uses of the National Directory of New Hires database.
Every year, often at the direction of Congress, Federal agencies contract with independent research organizations to conduct evaluations of the effectiveness of government programs. In nearly every case, a key measure of effectiveness is the program’s long‑term effects on participants’ employment and earnings.
One of the most reliable sources of earnings and employment data is collected by States from employers as part of the administration of the unemployment insurance system. Currently, an evaluator acting as an agent of the Federal Government must obtain these data from each State agency. Because evaluations of governmental programs take place in multiple jurisdictions, the evaluator must spend considerable resources to ascertain the State’s requirements for data acquisition and then apply separately to each State for the data.
The significant costs of data acquisition efforts are passed on to the Federal agency and, ultimately, to taxpayers. It is an unnecessary expense.
The same data that Federal contract evaluators must painstakingly acquire from each state already resides in a Federal database, the National Directory of New Hires, which Congress created to aid in the support of the administration of the Child Support Enforcement System.
However, due to restrictions currently placed on access to this database, many federally supported researchers and evaluators are unable to access employment and earnings data from this database.
Instead, they are forced to get the very same data directly from the states at great cost to the Federal Government, and at considerable burden in duplicative reporting for the states.
If the New Hire’s database were made available to evaluators with appropriate privacy safeguards, it would enable Congress and the agencies to assess the impact that social programs have on jobs and earnings at much lower cost and less burden to the Federal Government and the states.
The proposed amendment to Part D of Title 4 of the Social Security Act would advance the objective of making this database available for a broader range of research purposes.
But, there are three areas where the amendment could be strengthened. First, there may still be some ambiguity about whether a Federal agency can provide individual level data with personal identifiers to a contract or grant funded evaluator, and thus, the procedures put in place could result in Federal agents creating data sharing systems that are more complex and more costly than necessary.
However, I want to hasten to add that these systems would still be superior to the current situation which has contractors going to individual states to recreate over and over again a dataset that already exists at the Federal level.
My suggestion is that the bill clearly authorize the release of personally identifiable employment and earnings data directly to entities conducting Federal program evaluations, providing that all of the necessary procedures are in place to protect an individual’s privacy and the confidentiality of the data.
Second, the proposed amendment appears to require that a separate agreement be concluded between OCSE and the Federal agency requesting the data for each and every study.
Here, the amendment might allow for more inclusive blanket data agreements between agencies, avoiding the need to negotiate separate interagency agreements for every study.
Third, the bill should be careful to enumerate all the relevant Federal agencies. For example, the Department of Defense and the Corporation for National Service, both of which fund research and evaluation studies, are missing from the current draft.
Lastly, I want to briefly mention three potential concerns regarding the amendment.
First, protecting the data’s confidentiality. I want to stress that research contractors acting as the Federal Government’s agent obtain the same earnings and employment information now from states. In doing so, they assume responsibility for protecting the privacy of the data, and the confidentiality of the individuals involved, using secure servers, encryption, and other best practices as required by each individual state, and the standards of each state vary greatly.
The proposed amendment would standardize and thus strengthen those requirements and protections, and it would add felony level penalties for a willful breach of privacy laws. You would essentially be strengthening the privacy protections.
Cost is another major issue. Federal contracts and grants include funding to obtain the data from states now. These same contracts should instead include funding to cover the marginal cost of obtaining the data from the federal agency that administers the NDNH database.
Those costs would certainly be less expensive than the costs currently incurred.
Finally, it is not precedent setting. The Federal Government provides a range of confidential sensitive data to research contractors and grantees acting as Federal agents now.
In conclusion, this relatively simple fix to existing law governing the New Hire’s database, giving researchers evaluating Federal programs access to personally identifiable employment and earnings’ information would eliminate unnecessary duplicative data collection efforts, and reduce reporting burdens on state governments.
It would also save Federal and state taxpayers money, and improve the quality and the efficiency of federally supported evaluation research, all while strengthening the protections governing the confidentiality of the data, and further protecting the privacy of individuals.
Thank you very much.
[The information Mr. Berlin follows:]
*Chairman Davis. Thank you very much, Mr. Berlin. We are going to move to questions now.
I have a more general question for all of the witnesses. Each of you has had an opportunity to review a draft of the proposed legislation, of the proposals we have been discussing so far today, and many of you have alluded to it in your testimony.
I was wondering if you have any additional comments about the draft legislation, specifically anything that you believe should be changed or improved upon as we move forward.
I would open it up for any of the witnesses to share.
*Mr. Burlingame. Mr. Chairman, the one thing I would point out, in talking to some of my colleagues in states around the country, I was surprised to learn that in many instances today, judges and individuals supervising criminal defendants, probation officers, parole officers, do not have access today to child support order information or arrearage information on the population of people they supervise.
The privacy considerations in the current regulations and law prevent those individuals from having access to information about support orders and an individual’s compliance.
It seems to me that might be something that could be added that would allow individuals supervising the criminal population in the country to be able to check and make sure their charges are staying compliant with the important issue of child support enforcement.
*Chairman Davis. Before we move on, in fact, I will share personally that is one of our goals. Mr. Lewis and I among a few others introduced legislation called the “Standard Data Act,” and we got that enacted into law, in the Child Welfare, Promoting Safe and Healthy Families Act re‑authorization last year. It was also in the Conference Report on payroll tax affecting unemployment and TANF.
In my mind, particularly from a front line provision standpoint, having access to that information is very important. A lot of the populations that we deal with, where a front line social worker or a caregiver at a non‑government organization could encounter someone, it would be nice to know if there was a deadbeat dad across the river in another jurisdiction, to be able to find that.
I have heard exactly the same sentiment almost universally from folks: the more integrated we can be.
I do not believe that would be a breach of privacy since that parole officer can see a lot of other things. It might be less comfortable in public discussion than the child support payment issue.
*Ms. Stephen. Yes. I would like to add to that thought. When I heard this concept earlier today from Mr. Burlingame, I was intrigued because we are in the midst of discussions with our courts in Michigan, and specifically with the establishment of a judicial data warehouse, and are interested in access to certain information that is not part of the public record.
Our child support program is a court based system, but arrearage amounts do not go in the public record.
That type of information, making that available to judges when they are sentencing, so the judge actually has a full picture of this individual’s life and responsibilities, probably would be very useful.
It is unlikely to be possible under today’s rules and regulations.
I appreciate the fact this is being given consideration.
*Chairman Davis. Hopefully, we will be able to do something along those lines that would ease the process where it could simply be garnishment of pay. It may take a while to get to that point.
It took us seven years to get to the first provision that Mr. Lewis and I saw go into law, and Mr. Doggett and our other colleagues.
Did you want to say something, Mr. Berlin?
*Mr. Berlin. I just would restate what I said earlier: getting researchers access to individual level data with personal identifiers and with the appropriate protections; and secondly, encouraging blanket agreements between agencies so we do not spend all this time negotiating over the same issue every single time there is another study funded.
*Chairman Davis. Just to share a personal viewpoint, we often get into these discussions in the Congress when in fact many of our colleagues who argue about this issue go out and use their credit card or one of those loyalty fobs at a store, where there are reams and reams of data being used to forecast management to collection activities, and all the privacy is encrypted and quite reliable.
I think we could easily achieve a high standard because we are dealing with so much smaller of a population and much more limited data fields in the long run.
Just another general question. What would we lose, and more specifically, families in need of child support lose if we do not introduce and pass legislation dealing with this issue?
Why do you feel it should be done now?
*Ms. Farley. We currently work in a patchwork situation working with individual bilateral treaties. Requirements vary from country to country.
I think what families will lose and continue to lose is the support. Either they will not get the support at all, as Ms. Stephen mentioned, or there is going to be a delay in receiving the support.
We do have the uniform law Commission’s recommendation for the 2008 amendments. A lot of uniform laws are presented to the states, and what sometimes happens when states are considering that uniform language is that states will put their own personal touches on it, so it does not end up being uniform in the long run.
I think it is important for Congress to require that every state adopt the uniform law verbatim.
That way, we will be able to comply with the terms of the Convention.
I would also say the need for Congress to act now is that other countries, including the European community, are considering and moving toward ratification, and some of those countries are countries where we do not currently have access to their systems.
By ratifying the Convention, becoming a party to the Convention, our citizens would have access to services in countries where they currently do not have access.
*Chairman Davis. Thank you very much. With that, I would like to recognize Mr. Lewis from Georgia for five minutes.
*Mr. Lewis. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I want to join you in thanking the witnesses for taking their time to be here today in support of this legislation.
I just want to ask a question, and anyone can respond. I have a letter from a mother from Georgia who wrote to the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement that said “I recently went through a divorce, and soon after, my ex‑husband fled the country to avoid child support payments.”
She went on to say “I heard he is in Argentina. I currently live in Georgia with my two children. Is there anything I can do?”
I want to ask you, how would the United States’ participation in the Hague Treaty help this mother and the other parents like her, to assist with enforcing an order to non‑custodian parents who flee the country to avoid his or her child support?
Would you care to respond?
*Ms. Stephen. I think you have described exactly the kinds of situations that we face with unfortunately some frequency in Michigan.
At this point in time, we can contact the authorities in Argentina. We can try to make some inroads, but establishing child support is a multi‑step process.
First, you have to know where that parent is. Then you have to give adequate notice to the parent, establish the obligation, and set up a process to collect it.
All of that takes structure that we do not have access to today, even if it is a bilateral agreement country, and I am not sure. I do not have that right in my notes.
The Hague Convention and the enabling legislation would actually put in place some standardization of processes that would allow us to accomplish all of those steps, if both Argentina and the United States were members of the Treaty Convention.
That is really exactly what we are talking about. That is the kind of problem we need to solve for families.
*Mr. Lewis. Anyone else care to respond?
*Mr. Lewis. In your opinion, how important is it that Congress quickly pass this piece of legislation?
*Ms. Stephen. I have been in this program for most of my career, and I think this is a very significant step forward for families whose cases have been closed, flat out closed, nobody is trying to do anything any more because we have run into a dead end, because they have an international component.
Those children deserve the support services that we could provide if we can start this ball rolling.
The phrase that comes to mind is “If we build it, they will come.” I am convinced there are many cases out there that are outside the system now because we have been unable to be helpful, and we will be able to move some of those ahead.
I have a case with a seven year old. The father lives in Australia. We have been unable to get any locate, and that child has gone without child support for seven years.
Those are the kind of cases that we need to be moving, and we have to start somewhere, and this is really the place to start.
*Mr. Lewis. Thank you. Yes, sir?
*Mr. Burlingame. Mr. Lewis, the only thing I would add is on the data standards’ front, systems continue to be built and purchased, both in the 4‑D area and in the court area.
They are not waiting for these standards to be adopted or developed, so every system that gets built or purchased without standards as a guidance, has the potential to have to be retrofitted or rebuilt or refitted at some point in the future, once these standards are established.
The sooner there could be a mandate for the establishment of standards in this area along with any other area in the child welfare area, I think the better.
*Mr. Lewis. Ms. Farley?
*Ms. Farley. I might also add that in moving toward ratification, Congress approving and the implementing of legislation is a step in that process.
Once you have passed the legislation, states will have two years in which to implement or to pass legislation.
Once you act, we are still at least two years away from ratification. The sooner you act, the sooner we can move towards ratification and actually begin to benefit from the Convention.
*Mr. Lewis. Thank you. Mr. Chairman, I yield back.
*Chairman Davis. I thank the gentleman. The Chair now recognizes the gentleman from Minnesota, Mr. Paulsen, for five minutes.
*Mr. Paulsen. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you all for being here today.
In today’s world, when we talk about moving information between systems and making it more available out there, we have the issue of identity theft, of course, and the protection of personal identity information, which is sometimes called “PII.”
That is a primary concern whenever anyone talks about expanding access to data.
I am just wondering, Mr. Berlin, you touched on this a little bit right at the end of your testimony, I think. Can you please walk us through exactly how the privacy protections provided by the draft legislation language would work if researchers were given access to data in the National Directory of New Hire’s?
What other types of Federal data do researchers already have access to, what privacy protections surround that data? Have they been effective? How do those protections compare to those, as an example?
Is there any reason to believe overall that these private protections would be any less effective than those that are in place right now involving other areas of Federal law?
*Mr. Berlin. I can describe briefly the steps that we take. We work with a lot of other firms that also do this kind of work and have typically found that they follow very similar procedures.
We have a chief data security officer and a data exchange manager. We begin by meeting with and working with the agency and identifying the most reliable, safest way to actually transfer the data.
That data transmission method usually follows the National Institute for Standards and Technology’s strict standards for data exchange. It is called “For Data in Transit.”
It is a standard protocol, and NIST has established a set of very strict rules around these transfers. I think you want to make sure that those kinds of rules are what the agencies are relying on and using.
Those data teams then work with and store that personally identifiable data on a secure, centrally located server. It can only be accessed by a limited number of people, with the need to know.
Once we have the data, the very first thing it does is strip the data of all personal identifiers, and create essentially a random number for every individual in the dataset.
That is the dataset we work with. The dataset that has personally identifiable information on it is set aside on this secure server that is controlled by a data security officer.
There is almost no reason for us to be using the dataset with personal identifiers on a regular basis.
At the end of the study, we then use the National Institute for Standards and Technology’s standards for ensuring that the data is destroyed in an effective way, and that it cannot be recaptured elsewhere.
As I said, most firms use those same kinds of procedures. At our organization, and to the extent I know of other organizations, there has never been a breach of any of that data.
We and some other organizations we work with actually get sensitive Social Security Administration data, which if you think about it comparatively, in the NDNH case, we are only talking here about knowing quarterly earnings, essentially.
The Social Security data on disability and other things are much more sensitive, and we do get that data now, and we meet a very high standard for that data.
Federal agencies generally have compliance officers who visit your organization unannounced and confirm that you are in fact following all these procedures.
*Mr. Paulsen. The data you would use as a researcher under the draft legislation would be just as protective of privacy concerns as it is for what other Federal agencies use right now?
*Mr. Berlin. Exactly. The truth is the thing that everyone seems to have forgotten here is we already have this data. We are just getting it from the states. We follow these procedures now.
For 30 years, we have been doing this. Again, at unnecessary cost because the same data is already sitting at the Federal level.
*Mr. Paulsen. Ms. Farley, can I just follow up and ask, I think you may have mentioned privacy protections within the Hague Convention, but can you please tell us a little bit more about those?
*Ms. Farley. Yes. The drafters of the Convention were very aware of the personal information that would be gathered and transmitted.
There are several provisions within the Convention that deal with this issue. One, protection of personal data, any personal data that is gathered and transmitted can only be used ‑‑ it is restricted to be used only for the purpose for which it is being gathered and transmitted.
Someone getting information for collection of child support could not hand that off to some other entity to use it for another purpose.
There is also a provision related to confidentiality, in that the participating countries must protect the information they gather in accordance with their national law.
The third one has to do with non‑disclosure. It is a sensitivity to domestic violence. Authorities are prohibited from disclosing or confirming information that would jeopardize the health, safety, and liberty of the persons.
The other thing I would mention is as the Treaty was developed, tools were also developed to help implement it, including a set of forms, recommended forms, and all of the recommended forms clearly identify what information is personal and should not be transmitted, and that these countries should be very careful in handling.
*Chairman Davis. Thank you very much. The gentleman’s time has expired. The Chair now recognizes the gentleman from North Dakota, Mr. Berg, for five minutes.
*Mr. Berg. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I just have a couple of questions. First of all, North Dakota is one of the ten states that have enacted legislation with the Hague Convention.
I really have two questions. One is what are the consequences of us not moving forward at this point?
Ms. Farley, if you could address that, and Ms. Stephen also. If we do nothing, what are the negative consequences for doing nothing right now?
*Ms. Farley. The consequences are we continue the path that we have, in this patchwork of a system where we have to do bilateral agreements with individual countries, the requirements of those agreements may vary as far as what kind of documents are required and services that can be performed, and for those countries where we do not have a bilateral agreement, we will continue to have difficulties.
It is just a continuation of the difficulties we are experiencing right now.
*Mr. Berg. Ms. Stephen?
*Ms. Stephen. Yes, I would certainly second what Kay Farley has said. As I said earlier, the many cases that have just been out and out closed because we lack the ability to process the child support for that family.
Those cases are all across the globe. Our nearest neighbor probably would be cases from Mexico, where we have a number of Mexican individuals who work and live in Michigan, and we are unable to accomplish anything in terms of child support with the country of Mexico.
Those families will grow up ‑‑ those children will grow up with the support of only one parent, and that is a tremendous struggle in a time when both parents should be supporting their kids.
*Mr. Berg. Michigan is a problem? I am just kidding.
My second question, last question, relates to there are 40 states who have not signed this or enacted this. What is the problem? What is the barrier for them acting on this?
*Ms. Farley. I think the barrier is they are waiting for Congress to act. They want to take clues from you as to whether you are going to require verbatim implementation.
I think they are waiting for you. It is not that they are not supportive. They just want to take direction from you all before they move forward with their state legislation.
*Mr. Berg. Okay.
*Ms. Stephen. I am not aware of any opposition to this. I am not aware of any concern among the child support directors across the country, and we are a fairly tight group.
I do not believe that anybody is waiting because they do not believe this is the right thing to do. I think they are waiting to know that this is the direction that Congress wants us to go.
*Mr. Berg. We are all going to move in this direction. Thank you. I yield back, Mr. Chairman.
*Chairman Davis. Thank you very much. I want to thank each of the witnesses who have come here today. I also thank you again for your flexibility at the beginning of the hearing where we had to take that brief intermission.
We would like your continued input as we move forward on the draft legislation to introduce and hopefully pass that in this Congress. I would value that very much.
If members have additional questions, they will submit them to you directly in writing, and what we would ask you to do is share those answers not only with the members but also with the Committee so we can get them in the record for all to see.
With that, I thank you again for coming, I thank the members for participating, and the Committee stands adjourned.
[Whereupon, at 3:02 p.m., the Subcommittee was adjourned.]
Public Submissions For The Record
Eastern Regional Interstate Child Support Association