HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – Questions about South Carolina's issues updating its child support enforcement computer system were taken to the top.
Project engineer Jimmy Earley has only been on the job since 2015, but he's become the man who knows the most about what it will take to complete this project, which has already been delayed by decades and has cost taxpayers millions of dollars.
"There are a lot challenges with any project of this scope and complexity, but we have a really good partner with Xerox," Earley said. "They have a lot of child support experience. They implemented this system in Delaware that we are transferring to South Carolina. They've done this in a number of different states, so they come to us with a body of knowledge and an understanding that really helps our team - the state team - as we sit down and look at how we need to design and develop the system."
As for how parents and children have been impacted by these delays that have left South Carolina as the last state in the country to implement the system, Earley noted "there is opportunity for improvement."
"I would say simply having one central, statewide system will be a huge benefit in and of itself, both from the county perspective and the state perspective," he said. "We will have a more holistic view of the data. Some of the delays that we are experiencing now in exchanging the information between the counties and the state will be eliminated once we are in a single system."
WMBF News previously spoke with state Sen. Katrina Shealy, who said the money spent on these delays has been wasteful and negligent. Earley said that "certainly it's unfortunate."
"Again, I can't speak to the challenges and obstacles that were encountered on the previous projects. Our focus is on making sure we deliver a system through this project," he said. "But certainly, that level of frustration and the money that's been spent on the project, the concerns about that are understandable. We just need to make sure we don't have that conversation again during this project."
As to whether the process can be sped up at all, Earley said it was something they really looked at.
"We looked at that hard, and anytime you look at something like this, you have to balance risk and reward," he said. "And the three-year timeline actually is very aggressive for a project of this scope and complexity that we talked about. The three-year timeline to design, develop and test the system, based on what I've seen, is very much in line with timelines we've seen in other states. So we looked at it, but we didn't feel like, given the risk involved, it would be the wise thing to do. And actually we would be spending as much as we hoped to save by trying to add more resources to the project or look at different approaches for developing the system. We feel like we've got the right approach. We feel like we've taken the right path."
Earley said the new system will help to identify parents who owe, or are late on paying, child support. Users at both the county and state level will also have new tools to compel those individuals to pay the money owed.
"But at the end of the day, a computer system won't impact someone's willingness to pay or ability to pay," he said. "Those are decisions that parents have to make."
For now though, all 46 counties in the state and the Department of Social Services use different computer systems. However, the new one would change that.
It's taken decades to do this and has caused the Palmetto State to accrue over $145 million in fines on top of millions more in project costs.
The expected completion date is Sept. 30, 2019.