Texas Child Support System Gets an Upgrade…and a New Price Tag

Upgrade to Texas Child Support System Gets a Pricey Reboot.

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A sidelined plan to upgrade the Texas child support payment system is back on track, as the U.S. Office of Child Support Enforcement recently announced it would resume its role in funding the project.[1] Although the system overhaul is up and running again, its projected cost has more than doubled from its original budget, to $420 million, and is two years behind schedule.[2]

Nearly a decade ago, the Texas Attorney General’s office launched the upgrade project, under the leadership of then-Attorney General Greg Abbott, and entered into a $70 million contract with Accenture to create and implement the new system.[3] Because the state and federal governments jointly manage child support collection, the federal government agreed to pay two-thirds of the project’s costs.[4]

However, late last year, the federal government froze payments after it was determined that more work than anticipated was needed to upgrade the aging system.[5] Due to the project’s “runaway development costs, overly complex systems, increased maintenance costs and significant delays,” the federal office ceased funding its share of Accenture’s costs until it had more information, according to Mara Friesen, deputy attorney general for child support in Texas.[6] The federal government refused to restart funding until it received a detailed timeline and a “Corrective Action Plan” pinpointing causes of and remedies for the delays.[7]

The AG’s office has responded, and the federal agency recently announced that it has unfrozen funds so that the project may proceed.[8] The federal office has concluded that Texas’s new proposed plan “provides a clear go forward strategy focused on ensuring good management of the project as well as addressing and mitigating risk and issues going forward.”[9]

Parents and state employees throughout Texas depend on the AG’s computer system to manage child support cases; the system is used to locate parents, collect payments from noncustodial parents, and disburse funds to custodial parents.[10] But agency officials complain that the 20-year-old technology on which the system runs is clunky and inefficient and that it grows even more unworkable every year.[11]

Although Accenture has drawn criticism for its involvement with the project, the AG’s office contends the new price tag of the upgrade will be cheaper than scrapping Accenture and finding a new contractor.[12] First Assistant Attorney General Chip Roy has recommended that paying $50 million more to complete the overhaul as planned is a better strategy than rebidding the work.[13] Roy argues that terminating Accenture’s participation altogether would further delay the project and would likely double the additional spending needed to wrap it up.[14]

Under the new plan, Accenture must be prepared to launch to the new system by December 3, 2018, or pay the state $341,000 for every week late.[15]

Over half of the AG’s budget goes to child support enforcement.[16] Even despite the struggles in updating its system, the OAG’s website recently announced that Texas collected more than $3.8 billion in child support last year, and it ranks first in the nation for total amount of child support collected, amount of child support collected per employee, and cost effectiveness.[17]

For more information on the law regarding child support collection in Texas, check out O’Connor’s Family Law Handbook and the soon-to-be-released 2016-17 O’Connor’s Texas Family Code Plus!

[1] Steve Miller, Texas Re-starts Child Support Program, Newswire, May 25, 2016.

[2] Terri Langford, Cost of Texas Child Support Overhaul Doubles to $420 Million, Texas Tribune, May 27, 2016.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Aman Batheja, Feds Freeze Funding on Troubled Child Support Upgrade Project, Texas Tribune, Dec. 4, 2015.

[7] Id.

[8] Langford, Cost of Texas Child Support Overhaul Doubles to $420 Million.

[9] Miller, Texas Re-starts Child Support Program.

[10] Batheja, Feds Freeze Funding on Troubled Child Support Upgrade Project.

[11] Id.

[12] Langford, Cost of Texas Child Support Overhaul Doubles to $420 Million.

[13] Robert T. Garrett, Paxton Wants to Stick with Accenture and Finish Texas Child-Support Technology Work, Trail Blazers Blog, Dallas Morning News, Dec. 10, 2015.

[14] Id.

[15] Langford, Cost of Texas Child Support Overhaul Doubles to $420 Million.

[16] Batheja, Feds Freeze Funding on Troubled Child Support Upgrade Project.

[17] Attorney General of Texas, Attorney General Paxton’s Child Support Division Leads the Nation by Collecting $3.8 Billion in Child Support, June 13, 2016.

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