Child-support agency
should be exempt
from state cutbacks


An audit of the state agency that collects and distributes child-support payments has concluded that improvements are needed.

AN expensive computer system was installed nearly five years ago to make the state Child Support Enforcement Agency more efficient, but the transition has not been smooth. The state auditor scolded the agency two years ago for continued shortcomings, and a new audit says those problems still exist. They are likely to persist until the state can afford to hire more staff. The agency should not have to withstand budget cuts and a hiring freeze imposed on other state offices.

A study conducted for the auditor's office by Experio Solutions, a Dallas consulting company, concluded that the agency has not made full use of the $46 million computer system, failing to use data gathered by the computer to support the agency's task, which is to collect and distribute child-support payments. Ultimately, however, the agency is limited by the number of staffers available to serve customers. The caseload for each staffer averages 416.

One result is that only 60 percent of the people who make an average of 8,000 calls a week to the agency are able to reach the telephone queue and be put on hold, where they wait for 31/2 minutes, according to the study. Ten percent of those who are put on hold hang up, so fewer than half of the original callers are patient enough to talk to a live person. The Attorney General's Office says the agency has been able to increase personal contact to 85 percent and is seeking approval to buy a new phone system.

Meanwhile, the agency has until March to provide a state judge with a detailed accounting of at least $3.5 million in child support payments that went unpaid because of incorrect addresses. The order stems from a class-action lawsuit brought by custodial and noncustodial parents who have been frustrated by delays.

Attorney General Mark Bennett is asking that the child support agency be exempt from state budget cuts and a hiring freeze ordered by Governor Lingle because of fiscal pressure. The time needed to make improvements will depend "on what our fiscal restraints are and good management practices," he says.


Campus diversity
should be retained


The Bush administration is asking that a Michigan affirmative action program be declared unconstitutional.

RACE has been allowed as a consideration in college admissions since the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Bakke decision in 1978, and affirmative action has been under attack since then as reverse discrimination. Affirmative action, when carefully crafted, has been useful in creating diversity on college campuses and should not be discarded without an acceptable replacement.

The high court is reviewing the University of Michigan's policy of awarding extra points to black, Hispanic and American Indian applicants for undergraduate admission and making race one factor among many in achieving an unspecified "critical mass" of minority admissions to law school. The Bush administration contends that is "a disguised racial quota" and is asking the court to declare it unconstitutional without overturning the Bakke decision, which would require some legal acrobatics.

President Bush prefers a system adopted in his home state of Texas, where college admission is guaranteed to students who recorded grade averages in the top 10 percent of their high school in the state. Similarly, students in the top 20 percent in Florida and 4 percent in California are guaranteed admission in those states' university systems.

Those systems have resulted in diversity only because of the significant number of largely segregated schools in those states. The effectiveness of the programs relies on continued racial concentrations, i.e. segregation, in neighborhoods surrounding those schools. The systems also don't work at all in trying to achieve diversity in law or medical schools.

President Bush suggests that schools "seek diversity by considering a broad range of factors, including a student's potential and life experiences."

Private colleges have used that method effectively. For example, Rice University, heeding a 1996 court decision that prohibits colleges in Texas from practicing affirmative action, considers "cultural traditions" as an asset for applicants, resulting last year in a near record in admission of blacks, Hispanics and Asian Americans. Ivy League colleges pay individualized attention to each application to give a break to minority applicants along with those with musical or athletic skills or the children of alumni.

Many state universities, including Michigan, have adopted computerized formulas because of small admission staffs deluged with large numbers of applications. Abandonment of affirmative action would require increased staffing to implement more acceptable methods of achieving diversity.


Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, Publisher

Frank Bridgewater, Editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner, Assistant Editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, Assistant Editor 529-4762;

Mary Poole, Editorial Page Editor, 529-4748;
John Flanagan, Contributing Editor 294-3533;

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