support system since 1988, but only has half of the counties online so far. The system has been under development for so long that the platform on which the system runs is no longer marketed by the vendor who makes it.

"The state refuses to tell us how many of its staff will work on the conversion project," complained Daddow. "And they have said they will pay conversion costs as they define it, so its not clear how the project will be done. One thing I know is that switching to their system is going to cost us in labor and money."

The state readily admits that Oakland County has a good child-support enforcement system already in place. "But its a federal requirement that counties be part of our statewide system," explained state Family Independence Agency spokeswoman Karen Smith. "We are paying enormous penalties when were not in compliance."

Smith points out that while Oakland Countys system has several unique features that meet its needs, the system lacks the ability to search the Federal Case Registry and the National Directory of New Hires or to exchange information with these national databases. These databases have been singled out as reasons why the nations child-support enforcement program has nearly doubled collections to $15.8 billion in a seven-year period, according to federal officials. In addition, the Oakland County system doesnt have access to Michigans data warehouse, which contains vital information on state cases.

Coming to Terms

In March, Oakland County capitulated and signed a letter of intent to cooperate with the state and convert its computers, software and databases over to the statewide system. The conversion is expected to be completed by September 2002.

But the states strong-handed actions have angered Oakland County officials, who feel many questions remain unanswered, but most importantly that little effort was made to save some of the county systems more effective features. "They should have asked us what we are doing right so they could replicate it [at the state level]," said a frustrated Daddow. "Instead, they told us to drop our system or else."