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United States Government Accountability Office GAO January 2008 Report to Congressional Committees BANKRUPTCY AND CHILD SUPPORT ENFORCEMENT Improved Information Sharing Possible without Routine Data Matching GAO-08-100 January 2008 Highlights Highlights of GAO-08-100, a report to congressional committees Accountability Integrity Reliability BANKRUPTCY AND CHILD SUPPORT ENFORCEMENT Improved Information Sharing Possible without Routine Data Matching Why GAO Did This Study Recognizing the
    United States Government Accountability Office GAO Report to Congressional Committees BANKRUPTCY ANDCHILD SUPPORTENFORCEMENTImproved InformationSharing Possiblewithout Routine DataMatching January 2008GAO-08-100  What GAO Found United States Government Accountability Office Why GAO Did This Study H ighlights Accountability Integrity Reliability   January 2008   BANKRUPTCY AND CHILDSUPPORTENFORCEMENT Improved Information S harin g Po ss ible withoutRoutine Data Matchin g   Highlights ofGAO-08-100, a report tocongressional committees Recognizing the importance of child support, the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and ConsumerProtection Act of 2005 requires thatif a parent with child supportobligations files for bankruptcy, abankruptcy trustee must notify therelevant custodial parent and statechild support enforcement agencyso that they may participate in thecase. The act also required GAO tostudy the feasibility of matchingbankruptcy records with childsupport records to assure thatfilers with child support obligationsare identified. GAO therefore (1)identified the percent of bankruptcy filers with obligationsnationwide, (2) examined the potential for routine data matchingto facilitate the identification of filers with child supportobligations, and (3) studied thefeasibility and cost of doing so.GAO interviewed child supportenforcement and bankruptcyofficials at the federal level and insix states. GAO also conducted anationwide test data match andreviewed national bankruptcyfilings for people with supportobligations in Texas for anindication of whether filers arefailing to provide this information. What GAO Recommend s  To improve the current trusteenotification system, the executiveand judicial branch entitiesresponsible for bankruptcy casetrustees should take steps toaddress the needs of state agenciesfor full SSNs to better identifybankruptcy filers; these entitiesagreed. Nationwide, about 7 percentof individuals who filed for bankruptcy betweenOctober 17, 2005, and October 17, 2006—the first year of the bankruptcy actimplementation—were noncustodial parents with child support orders. They,in turn, represented about one-half of 1 percent of the 9.9 million noncustodial parents with orders to pay child support. While these proportions are small,they represented 45,346 adults and at least as many children.Routine data matching might identify individuals who have not reported theirchild support obligations. However, GAO estimated from a random sample filereview that 98 percent of noncustodial parents nationwide with orders inTexas had volunteered this information when they filed. (The results could behigher or lower in other states.) Another potential benefit would be to reducethe workload for state child support agencies by providing positiveidentification of bankruptcy filers with orders under the states’ purview bycomparing the full social security numbers (SSNs) of individuals in bothbankruptcy and child support databases. This would help address the currentsituation state agency officials described, in which significant numbers of thenotices they receive from bankruptcy trustees included only partial SSNs of the named person, imposing additional work on staff to make a positiveidentification in their databases. For bankruptcy case trustees participating inthe U.S. Trustee Program, we found this to be the case, even though programguidance—covering 84 of the 90 bankruptcy districts—calls for case trusteesto provide full SSNs in notices sent to state agencies. These notices are not part of any public record and trustee program officials said this use of the fullSSNs is consistent with executive branch policies designed to guard privacy.For the remaining six districts, administered under a separate program, noguidance has been developed. A data matching system is technically feasible, but it would be a complex andcostly undertaking, and would involve addressing some statutory and policyconsiderations. Regarding notifying state agencies of the match results,federal child support enforcement officials said that their national automatedsystem could disseminate this data after modifications to federal and statesystems. However, a data matching system would not offer a comprehensivealternative to the trustee notification system, because it would not transmitinformation to custodial parents. Regarding cost, bankruptcy and childsupport enforcement officials said that the development and implementationof an automated interface between two separate databases is a complex andcostly undertaking, requiring modifications to each, with many steps requiredto assure that the matching system is developed and deployed without criticalflaws and allowing for the secure exchange of data. Also, bankruptcy officialscited some statutory and policy considerations to releasing their own data orto performing a data match. It would also duplicate a portion of the currenttrustee notification process. In view of these findings, instituting a datamatching system may not be warranted, especially if the case trustees can provide full SSNs of bankruptcy filers when notifying state agencies. To view the full product, including the scopeand methodology, click onGAO-08-100.For more information, contact Kay E. Brownat (202) 512-7215 or BrownKE@gao.gov.    Contents Letter 1Results in Brief 4Background 6  About 7 Percent of Those Who Filed for Bankruptcy Have Ordersto Pay Child Support and Most Are Part of the CSE Program 13 A Routine, National Data Match Might Identify Filers Who Do NotReport Their Support Obligations and Reduce the Workload Associated with the Current Process 15 Although a Data Match Is Technically Feasible, There Would BeSubstantial Start-Up Costs as well as Some PolicyConsiderations 19 Conclusion 25 Recommendations for Executive and Judicial Branch Action 26 Agency Comments and Our Evaluation 27  Appendix I Objectives, Scope, and Methodology 30  Appendix II Comments from the Department of Justice 34  Appendix III GAO Contact and Staff Acknowledgments 35 Table Table 1: Comparison of Bankruptcy Filers Who Are NoncustodialParents with Orders with All Bankruptcy Filers 14 Figures Figure 1: Overview of Bankruptcy System 8Figure 2: Current Court and Bankruptcy Case Trustee NotificationProcesses 12 Figure 3: Federal Parent Locator Service 21 Page i GAO-08-100 Bankruptcy and Child Support Enforcement     Abbreviations CSE Child Support EnforcementDSO Domestic Support ObligationEOUST Executive Office for U.S. TrusteesHHS Department of Health and Human ServicesOCSE Office of Child Support EnforcementSSN Social Security NumberTANF Temporary Assistance for Needy Families This is a work of the U.S. government and is not subject to copyright protection in theUnited States. It may be reproduced and distributed in its entirety without furtherpermission from GAO. However, because this work may contain copyrighted images orother material, permission from the copyright holder may be necessary if you wish toreproduce this material separately. Page ii GAO-08-100 Bankruptcy and Child Support Enforcement
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