The State of California is set to pull the plug on a troubled $300 million computerised child support payment system, echoing the problems that the UK Child Support Agency has experienced with similar technology.
The State Automated Child Support System (SACSS) was developed in response to a 1988 federal government ruling that all US states should develop an automated system to track down parents owing child support payments to offspring supported by welfare benefits. Each state is supposed to have its system in place by September.
But last week the California State Assembly published a report warning: "There is significant doubt, even among the parties involved, whether the system will every function properly."
Project costs for the system have risen from an original 1991 budget of $99 million to over $300 million in 1997. California assemblywoman Elaine Alquist, chair of the assembly?s IT committee, said: "I am concerned that the state government is throwing away tax dollars on a high priced computer project without any assurances that it will ever work."
In the UK, the Child Support Agency has experienced its own problems with similar computer systems, which have been severely criticised by MPs in a series of government reports on the agency?s performance.
Only 22 of the 58 counties that make up the state of California have actually gone live with SACSS and many of those have since turned it off. Santa Clara county issued a statement last week saying that it would not use the system until it is guaranteed glitch-free.
Users have complained about the use of a character-based, rather than graphical, user interface, the presence of an estimated 1,400 bugs in the software and badly designed batch processing mechanisms.
Prime contractor Lockheed Martin Information Management Services has promised the state?s Health and Welfare Data Centre that it will have cleared up the problems within a few weeks. The health authorities are expected to review Lockheed?s contract with the state at that point.
If the state decides to scrap the project completely, it faces stiff penalties from the federal government in the form of loss of five per cent of the $2.5 billion a year federal welfare fund.
The California Assembly sees the system as a particularly sensitive political issue. Three years ago it had to abort a Department of Motor Vehicles computer project at a cost of $50 million when it proved to be unworkable.
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