Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Monday, December 14, 1998

Bureaucrats tie
the knot in
the system

A recent series of horror stories in this paper concerning problems at the state agency in charge of making sure single mothers get child support payments from their former hubbies shows why government simply should not be in the marriage business, even the rump end of the marriage business, when glorious unions that are not supposed to go asunder go asunder.

While the battle lines on the same-sex marriage issue were being formed, there were a few of us weirdo libertarian types who questioned why the spiritual, cultural and domestic union of two people, of either sex, had to be officially sanctioned by government. Why is it Gov. Ben Cayetano's, Mayor Jeremy Harris' or even Bill Clinton's business whom I choose to spend the rest of my life with? None of them -- Clinton in particular -- has any business putting an official "government approved" stamp on any citizen's personal relationships.

Why should government be involved in the sanctioning of millions of marriages when the ultimate head of government, the president, can't even handle his one little lousy union?

The answer is, it shouldn't. But the federal government endorses and supports marriage through various tax issues, and the state government holds up the red herring of public health as a reason to keep its regulatory hand in the marriage game.

The rite of marriage comes from common law, which means people were doing it long before a bunch of bureaucrats weaseled in and started making them give blood and sign documents.

WHAT does this have to do with the pitiful condition of the state Child Support Enforcement Agency? Everything. Because once government decided it had to be in charge of marriage, it decided it also had to be in charge of when marriages fail, the idea being that if people are dumb enough to marry the wrong person, they will be too dumb to figure out how to support the innocent children that the failed union brought into the world.

And so a giant bureaucratic apparatus was constructed, staffed by government workers with good intentions, but no specific background in the business of operating what amounts to an enormous checking account.

In a nutshell, the Child Support Enforcement Agency is supposed to take in money from one spouse and send it out to another.

It's an accounting thing. And right now, with the help of a brand new computer too cutely called "Keiki," the agency has so fouled up this relatively simple task, that single mothers all over the state are not receiving the checks they need to keep their children fed and clothed.

There are private companies all over the country that have figured out the technical complexities of enforcing court-ordered liens, collecting money and paying it out again. And the companies make money doing it.

Why not hire one of these firms, which already have the computers, phone lines and, most of all, expertise, to handle this task, if government insists on being involved?

This is not a criticism of the individuals working in the child support agency. It is a criticism of the idea that government has to do everything for everyone, from collecting garbage to collecting child-support payments.

When are we going to realize that many services are most efficiently handled by private experts who specialize in them and NOT by politically appointed officials who are in charge of street signs one week and children's health the next?

Judging by the continuing fiasco at the Child Support Enforcement Agency, I'm afraid the answer for island residents is never.

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802

or send E-mail to charley@nomayo.com or

The Honolulu Lite online archive is at:

E-mail to Features Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
[Stylebook] [Feedback]

© 1998 Honolulu Star-Bulletin