RICHMOND, JUNE 30 -- Virginia officials issued documents today illustrating the dismal performance of the state's child support agency in recent years and detailing a sole-source contract for a flawed computer that barely met the requirements of state procurement law.
The documents, released here at a news conference called by Human Resources Secretary Eva S. Teig to tout her department's latest child support initiatives, graphically outlined the many problems that have beset one of Virginia's largest government agencies.
Nonetheless, Teig insisted that the state Child Support Enforcement Division of her department has "turned the corner" and will show dramatic improvements by 1989.
"There will still be skeptics out there," Teig said, but she added: "The light is at the end of the tunnel and is shining brightly, to be very corny about it."
In a departure from her previous public statements and those of Gov. Gerald L. Baliles, Teig today sharply criticized outgoing Social Services Commissioner William L. Lukhard for the state's acquisition of a computer that was supposed to speed child support benefits to thousands of Virginia families, but that has proven to be inefficient and too costly to operate.
She said that responsibility for the 1985 purchase of the ACSES computer system "can be shared," but that the fault lies "at the very top -- the commissioner's office.
"That's where the buck stops."
Lukhard, a 30-year veteran of state government, announced June 18 that he will retire in September to spend more time with his family. His successor has not been named.
Teig today issued copies of her report to Baliles on a recent internal investigation into the sole-source contract for the ACSES system, which its manufacturer, Pennsylvania-based Unisys Corp., has pledged to repair. Essentially, Teig's summary says the state blindly accepted a bill of goods from the computer's manufacturer.
"Not only was prior planning informal, it was conducted in an atmosphere of panic and haste," Teig wrote. She added that state officials showed little "clear understanding regarding the complexity, magnitude and technical aspects of the system."
In addition, the manufacturer's representative "never gave indications that the system would not work," Teig said. The company was selected "because it purported to have a product commensurate with Virgina's needs, could supposedly meet the short time frame for delivery, and had previous favorable experience in providing systems" to the state, Teig's report said.
She concluded that Virginia's public procurement laws "were met in form, but not entirely in substance. The process did not allow enough time to evaluate and assess the system that was being purchased."
There was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing by state officials, Teig said.
Teig also released data today showing that 1986 was a very bad year for the child support enforcement division, which received widespread publicity during that period for long delays in issuing child support checks and faulty procedures for collecting support payments.
The data showed that the division was one of the least cost-effective of such agencies in the country last year -- only three states or U.S. territories were worse. The division also fell below the national average for recovering certain child assistance payments, and its collection rate of $75 per case was well under the U.S. average of $333 per case, according to the data.
This year, the state's collection rate is $187 per case. Teig said she expects the figure to jump to $431 next year.
Teig and Harry W. Wiggins, the new director of the enforcement division, said they are optimistic about a turnaround because of recent gains at the agency and new programs to track down parents who withhold child support.
For instance, between October 1986 and April 1987, the division collected $36.7 million in payments, compared with about $8 million during the same period the year before, Wiggins said. Today, collections are running at an annual rate of more than $75 million, up from $66 million two months ago.
The division also plans to expand its field office hours, establish a toll-free telephone number so parents may pay with credit cards, and work with the Internal Revenue Service to seize bank and brokerage accounts of delinquent parents.
"Some of this is not new for other places, but it's new for us," Wiggins said.