Private industry is about to get its shot at a task where government has clearly failed: collecting court-ordered child support payments from absent parents of Baltimore's children.
The state Board of Public Works voted yesterday to award a three-year contract to a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin, the giant Bethesda-based defense contractor, to take over most of the functions of child support enforcement in the city.
"Right now, what we're doing is striking out in a whole new area," said Gov. Parris N. Glendening.
By turning over child support collection to a private company, Maryland is joining a national trend that is gaining momentum in the wake of the new federal welfare reform law. But according to Clifford Layman, the state's child support enforcement chief, the Baltimore program will be the largest such privatization effort in the country.
As of Nov. 1, employees of Lockheed Martin IMS will track down deadbeat parents, administer paternity tests, collect and pay out money and prepare the legal paper work to enforce court orders. State officials will continue to represent the government in enforcing court orders.
The pilot program in the city, along with a smaller one in Queen Anne's County also awarded to Lockheed, could turn out to be a model for child support collections statewide, officials said.
The legislature voted in 1995 to establish the program to test whether a private company could outperform bureaucrats in tracking down parents and getting money to their children. Under that law, the contractor will have to offer jobs to the state employees who now perform those tasks.
There is little dispute that the collection rate in Baltimore has been abysmal. In fiscal 1996, the city office of the state's Child Support Enforcement Administration collected just $54.9 million of the $575.5 million in current and past payments owed to Baltimore children and their custodial parents.
The figure is not much better when current payments are considered. Last year, the office was able to collect only 31 cents of each dollar of the $97.3 million owed.
Such statistics earned Department of Human Resources officials a scolding from Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein.
"You have a poor record of collecting that money in your department," Goldstein said.
The board's unanimous approval came after it heard a vigorous protest by Maximus Inc., a McLean, Va., company that narrowly lost out in a battle of competing proposals.
Melissa Pappas, director of Maximus' child support division, questioned Lockheed's projection of a 145 percent gain in collections over three years.
"We believe this is entirely unprecedented and has not been done anywhere in the country," Pappas said. She said Maximus' three-year projection of a 114 percent gain was less than it has achieved in other states.
But board members were swayed by state officials' assurances that Lockheed would face significant penalties if it does not meet its ambitious goals.
It also was apparent that Lockheed, as a Maryland company, enjoyed an advantage in front of a board that has stressed the importance of in-state procurements.
Glendening said Lockheed was one of many defense contractors trying to put military expertise to use on civilian projects.
"This is a Maryland-based defense contractor that is making this conversion," he said.
Layman said Lockheed's Maryland connections were a factor in its higher rating for "corporate qualifications," but a minor one.
Lockheed Martin IMS, which has become one of the leading companies in the growing child support enforcement business, said it expects to collect about $325 million in Baltimore over three years.
Pub Date: 10/10/96