State House freshmen demand answers from SC DSS

In recent weeks, the operation of SC DSS has come under fire on this blog, as well as Voting Under The Influence. But it’s not just us new media types who are asking questions.

We were tipped off about a meeting which took place the day after we wrote about the problems at SC DSS where Representative Tom Young and other House freshman legislators met with SC DSS Director Kathleen Hayes to discuss concerns with the agency’s operations. In the meeting with Hayes and other DSS staff members were Representatives Bruce Bannister, Boyd Brown, Joe Danning, Shannon Erickson, Anton Gunn, George Hearn, Jenny Horne, Tommy Stringer, and Bill Wylie.

Along with Hayes & a host of DSS support staff, the timeline of the numerous problems, the seemingly poor coordination between the Governor’s Chief Procurement Office, DSS, and the feds. It was made clear that the mounting cost of fines upon taxpayers was unacceptable.

Dr. Hayes explained that South Carolina was the only state yet to meet this federal mandate. She also said DSS was working with State & Federal officials to petition the feds to forgo additional fines – so long as progress was being made towards compliance.

Legislative commentary in that meeting included:

Rep. Tommy Stringer said that he had “no sympathy” for their plight.

Rep. Shannon Erickson expounded that if her small business had not met mandates like this it would not have had the endless pockets of the taxpayer funds to keep bailing & did not support requests for fine abatement due to our state’s incompetence.

Rep. Boyd Brown admonished DSS for using Gov. Sanford & other Republicans to “get attention from the new administration” and promoted Congressman Clyburn as the effective person in SC’s delegation.

Rep. Anton Gunn commented that he’d been present in DSS system update meetings for many years & that reports were “piece-meal”- and did not give a whole or clear picture of this issue.

Several Freshmen House members raised questions about the state’s auditing procedures and plan to look into that area in an effort to improve the state’s use of its fiscal resources.

Those we’ve spoken with give Dr. Hayes credit for taking responsibility for working to resolve the long-standing situation, which was well underway before she became director two years ago.

A rep from the EDS/Saber Co. said it was taking a lot of extra work to transition to the federally-compliant system from the state’s current child support collection system, which reportedly is vastly different than any other states. Several of those in attendance asked if it would be possible to change how payments were being handled to fit an already existing system instead of developing a new system from scratch.

It was admitted that the system is not scheduled to be operational until 2011, and the state will face annual penalties of about $30 million in fines during that time.

Rep. Young confirmed that he was there and had called for the meeting:

Because the failure to install the system timely has cost our state $63.18 Million in penalties (all paid from the general fund) to date with another $30 Million expected to be paid through fiscal year 2011, I wanted to learn more about why this happened; what can be done to fix the current problem if anything; and what can be done to ensure that such waste and mismanagement of resources does not take place again. The meeting was helpful in providing us insight and our Freshmen Caucus plans to work together to address the inefficiencies in state government that caused this so that it does not happen again.

When contacted for comment, Representative Erickson also acknowledged that she’d been in the meeting, as well offering her concerns about the situation:

There was communication breakdown to the ultimate degree and that our procurement code needs attention. Having DSS not comply in this circumstance is negligence to the taxpayers of our state. I own child development centers licensed by DSS, if they mandated changes in our requirements and I didn’t comply for 10 years, or even 2 years, they’d have shut me down. There would have been no negotiations, in fact, absolutely no tolerance for non-compliance. They should practice what they preach and we should help them to develop the tools to do so.

As we’ve said before, the large size of the House freshman caucus gives them the rare opportunity for freshmen to stand up and be counted. The DSS meeting is a sign that this group isn’t afraid to make their presence known in the State House, which we think is a great thing. We hope to see more of them in the future.

The Blogland of Earl Capps

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