Child support
agency struggling

It has problems providing
adequate customer service
for its huge caseload

By Craig Gima

The state Child Support Enforcement Agency continues to struggle to manage its $46 million KEIKI computer system and to provide adequate customer service for the nearly 105,000 cases and $111 million the agency handles annually, according to a critical state audit released yesterday.

In a similar audit released in February 2000, the agency was faulted for its "reactive leadership" and "long history of failing to resolve weaknesses in its management controls and its failure to take advantage of opportunities to improve its operations, services and the use of its resources."

Yesterday's report notes that "this weakness continues."

The report cites three root causes of the agency's problems: a lack of strategic planning, an inability to fully use the KEIKI system and a lack of training programs. The KEIKI computer is a federally mandated system that CSEA uses to process child-support checks and run its operation.

In its recommendations the audit contains a detailed timetable to address the agency's shortcomings by January of next year.

However, in its response to the audit, the Attorney General's Office notes that fixing problems at the CSEA would require an increase in the agency's budget and the hiring of more employees at a time when, like other state agencies, it is under a hiring freeze and is looking at budget cuts.

Attorney General Mark Bennett said yesterday that he is asking for an exemption to the budget cuts and hiring freeze.

"We're talking on these issues with (the state Department of) Budget & Finance, and I don't believe any final decisions have been made on that," Bennett said.

One example of the agency's problems is the automated voice response unit phone system, which handles about 8,000 calls a week.

"Customers' experience with the VRU has the potential to immediately sour their view of the agency," the report says.

Callers can access an abundance of recorded information on the main number for the agency, but the phone system does not inform people calling in that they can press "0" to speak to a live person between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. on business days.

Only about 60 percent of the people who call are actually able to get into the telephone queue, and less than half of those are able to talk to a live person, according to the report. Four out of 10 callers are blocked because the lines are busy, and the average wait is about 3.5 minutes, so about 10 percent of them hang up before talking to someone.

The company that supplied the system to the agency went out of business, and the agency is not able to change any of the scripts or menu choices.

The Attorney General's Office said that between January and August of last year, the agency has been able to improve its response rate to 85 percent of those calling. The agency is seeking approval to spend about $300,000 to purchase a new phone system.

Overall, Bennett said the agency is pleased that the audit cites progress in improving financial management and customer service since the agency's last audit and that the CSEA recognizes the need for further improvement.

But the timetable for improvements will have to be based "on what our fiscal restraints are and good management practices."

Child Support Enforcement Agency

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