Corporation set to collect child support

Previous contractor replaced by state after complaints, shortfalls

`A long-term fix'

Company to put focus, with agencies, on help for jobless fathers

October 31, 1999|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

After three difficult years with Lockheed Martin IMS, the state is about to see whether another private company will do a better job collecting millions of dollars in child support for Baltimore families.

State officials say they are hopeful that this time they have the formula right and that Maximus Inc. will succeed where its predecessor fell short. Maximus is to take over tomorrow.

Teresa L. Kaiser, who heads Maryland's child support enforcement office, said the objective remains the same: better service for the public at lower cost.

"We're going in with high hopes," Kaiser said. "I think Maximus understands the complicated challenge they've undertaken. It's going to be a long-term fix."

Maximus won a three-year contract to administer child support services in Baltimore and to handle Queen Anne's County's relatively small caseload. The McClean, Va.-based company expects to earn $42 million in fees and incentives from the contract.

The state's own failures in running the child support program in Baltimore led the General Assembly in 1996 to turn it over to a private contractor. Queen Anne's was included to see how a company would fare with a smaller program.

Lockheed Martin won the contract after promising to increase collections dramatically in the city, but fell far short of its goals and was beset with complaints about poor service.

The company collected $61.9 million its first year, well below its $80 million goal. It was even less on target the second year, collecting only $63.1 million of its $110 million goal. State officials said they expect collections of about $65 million for the final year, which ends today; the goal was $130 million.

Lockheed Martin officials say many of the problems were the state's fault. They say they based their collection goals on faulty data the state provided, and that computer problems caused by the state hindered the company.

This year, state officials rejected Lockheed Martin's request that its contract be extended for a fourth year. When the contract was put out for a new bid, Lockheed Martin declined to enter the competition. Maximus was chosen over other bidders.

Kaiser said Maximus knows the problems it faces in trying to collect child support in a poor, urban environment. The company is working with social service agencies to help fathers find jobs that will give them the means to pay their child support, she said.

She also said the contract is structured differently to place more emphasis on serving the public -- answering telephone calls and resolving problems pertaining to child support cases. The focus in the old contract was on increasing collections.

"I think we were more articulate with the vendor about our expectations, and I think the vendor came in with their eyes open. So I would expect a dramatic improvement in performance over Lockheed," Kaiser said.

David A. Hogan, who heads Maximus' child support division, said company officials would work this weekend to prepare for the transition. "We'll be open for business and we'll be ready," he said.

Maximus is using the same buildings Lockheed Martin used in Baltimore and Queen Anne's, and the staff, for the most part, is the same, Hogan said.

The General Assembly required the company to keep former state employees who transferred to Lockheed Martin. Hogan said Maximus also offered positions to 42 of the 65 people Lockheed Martin hired who had not come from the ranks of state employees.

Hogan described his company as the nation's largest private provider of human services, such as welfare-to-work, child support and Medicaid-managed care programs.

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