The Virginia company that holds the contract to enforce child-support orders in Baltimore has accused a leading state official of undermining its efforts in the city, telling her boss and legislators that the situation has become "untenable."
David R. Francis, general counsel of Maximus Inc., wrote a letter to Human Resources Secretary Emelda P. Johnson on Monday complaining about Teresa L. Kaiser, executive director of the state's Child-Support Enforcement Administration. He sent copies to the two General Assembly committees handling bills that would extend privatization in Baltimore and Queen Anne's County.
The salvo is another blow in an increasingly nasty battle over legislation that would give Maximus the opportunity to win a three-year extension when its current contract ends this year.
Public employee unions are fighting the legislation, which is moving on a fast track through the Senate and House of Delegates despite the opposition of the Human Resources Department.
The House version of the legislation was approved yesterday by the Appropriations Committee on a 21-4 vote. It was amended to give the winning contractor the possibility of two one-year extensions and to eliminate any reference to it being a pilot project.
Pro-privatization legislators were circulating the Maximus letter yesterday to bolster their contention that the Human Resources Department's position is the result of an institutional bias against privatization.
Kaiser, a veteran child-support official who came to the department from Missouri in 1999, said the company's description of her views was "absolutely inaccurate."
"I am not biased against privatization. I am for high performance because we serve children and families and anything less is not acceptable," she said. Kaiser added that she has privatized many aspects of child support enforcement - not just in Maryland but in her previous jobs in Missouri and Idaho.
The department had no response to the allegations against Kaiser. "We're examining it and the secretary will deal with it appropriately," Human Resources Department spokeswoman Earlene Wilson said.
Maximus officials did not return calls.
Francis' letter, which falls just short of urging Kaiser's firing, complains that she has made a series of comments that show her opposition to privatization and her desire to return the program to departmental control.
"Ms. Kaiser's actions do nothing to support the mission of the Baltimore project," Francis wrote. "Rather, they seem calculated to disrupt Maximus' operations and sow seeds of apprehension and uncertainty among a talented and dedicated work force."
Francis accused Kaiser of sending "negative" newspaper articles to her fellow child support administrators this year and last. He attached a copy of e-mail inviting officials to talk with her before doing business with Maximus.
Kaiser said it was routine for child support administrators around the country to discuss the performance of their programs.
Francis also charged that Kaiser has been sharing information with the press, citing as evidence the cover sheet of a fax to a Sun reporter.
The Francis letter shows there has been a falling-out between Maximus and Kaiser since June 2000, when she was quoted in a Sun article as being "very pleased" with the company's early performance after it took over the contract from Lockheed Martin IMS.
"The clients are much happier. We are seeing a decrease in complaints, which is a very welcome thing," she said at the time.
Since then, however, the contractor and Kaiser have become disenchanted with each other.
Gerri Jensen, founder of the Association for Children for Enforcement of Support in Toledo, Ohio, said her national advocacy group has repeatedly clashed with Kaiser over various issues. She expressed surprise that Kaiser would be identified as an opponent of privatization - which Jensen also opposes.
"It must be really bad for Teresa Kaiser to be against it. She's known for supporting privatization," Jensen said.