use than a database.

"With EPLN you put a Social Security number in and it checks all the states immediately," said Janice Alford, locate manager for Georgia. "I used to have a huge caseload, but I didn't know where to start -- all I'd have was a name. With EPLN you can take almost nothing and go in and at least try to do your job rather than feeling totally helpless," she said.

Alford was also able to save her agency money using EPLN. "I used to pay a company out of Washington $18.50 per name to track down Social Security numbers. The first year I used EPLN -- and that was with very few states online -- I saved the state $33,000."

Time is also a factor aided by EPLN. "Quite often, with the states that do not belong to EPLN, sending a locate request to another state may take six months or more before they get a response," said Betty Murphy, EPLN consultant for TransFirst Inc., the company maintaining the network's data. "By then, the child support evader has picked up and left."

EPLN has not only increased collections by tracking down parents faster, it's also saved millions of dollars in government benefits paid to families that don't receive their court-ordered support.

EXPANDING THE SYSTEM

South Carolina and TransFirst are working together to expand EPLN, which has its roots in a 1986 federal grant to the South Carolina Department of Social Services. The grant was given to determine whether or not a collection of states could be brought together to electronically view each others' data.

"At the end of the pilot we had proved that we could do that and it was beneficial," said Richard Swink, EPLN director with the South Carolina Department of Social Services. "At that time the Office of Child Support Enforcement did not wish to expand this thing out on a national basis nor fund it, so we had to make a decision."

The decision was made to continue the project by forming a consortium of states, setting up bylaws and sharing expenses. And today, the network is continuing to serve more and more states, with the newest -- Delaware -- set to come on board early this year.

"In the last nine months, we've had about a million inquires into the system," said Swink. "And as more states come on, the system becomes more powerful, because each state brings data that could hold the key to the location of yet another child support evader."

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EPLN is a database management system written in NATURAL. The database contains indexed data elements that allow users to interrogate massive amounts of data in near-English language statements. EPLN also provides a SOUNDEX capability which allows the worker to enter a question mark following a person's name so that all sound-alike entries also come up in a query.

A dial-in communication line between TransFirst's headquarters in Dallas, Texas, links the computer mainframes in each of the participating states.

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