It happened around 1990. Things were humming along with the AG. Child support orders were being enforced. Paternity was being established. Children were being fed. The Texas Attorney General had a computer that helped them keep track of cases, child support payments, etc. The Kansas child support agency had a computer system also. So did California, and Tennessee, and Mississippi ... and they were all different.
The federal government realized that if 50 states had 50 different computers, then when it wanted nationwide statistics, the tally would have to be done by hand. Also - the feds wanted to be able to monitor the States directly, by plugging into each State's computer. This way, everybody would have to be honest. Uniformity among the 50 computer systems was needed. So the feds sent down some guidelines to the states: "Hey, remember all those hoops we make you jump through? Here's one more! Within these guidelines, you can design your own computer system, but it has to be able to do A, B, C, D, and E, within a certain protocol."
So in Austin, meetings were held. "Front-line workers" from the AG were asked their opinions. Input was put in. Arthur Andersen (they being the lowest bidder) was hired, at a cost (eventually, after multiple overruns) of fourteen million dollars (more than twice the budgeted amount). Years went by. More meetings were held, with AG employees being flown to Austin to stay in hotels.
Deadlines were set, and then were reset when they couldn't be complied with. Years passed. Finally, on September 1, 1997, the new computer system (called "Texas Child Support Enforcement System" or TXCSES) went on-line. The feds tested it, and said: It complies. Congratulations.
In truth and in fact, the new computer system was a colossal failure. Currently, it has to go off-line (meaning that the rank-and-file workers can't get to it at all) for a few days at the end of each month so that it can "batch." It doesn't have enough juice to do this AND allow people to make inquiries from the various AG offices across the state. So if YOU call, and want information, you'll be told that "the computer's down."
And from time to time, for no reason that anybody knows, the computer just doesn't work. It is simply not available for part of a day. During that time, not even the AG can find out what your child support balance is ... if you can even get through to them on the telephone.
In other words, if the child's father has a big sack of money and wants to pay off his child support arrearage, he calls the AG's office (this is assuming that he can get through) and asks, "What's my payoff? I want to go ahead and take care of it." They can't tell him. The computer is down.
And then there's the automated system (part of the computer setup) that mails out notices of child support arrearage to the Dads. Letters are sent from Austin (they're never actually touched by a human being) which state, "Your child support arrearage is $X." For YEARS, these letters have been going out with incorrect amounts on them, and everybody at the AG knows that they're wrong, but nobody has figured out a way to make them stop! This causes an enormous waste of employee time because people call to complain ("Hey, I don't owe $30,000.00!"). AG employees are spending their time responding to these complaints rather than collecting child support for the starving children of Texas.
And all of this is being paid for with YOUR tax dollars.
In January 2001, I happened to meet with one of the gentlemen (from Arthur Andersen) who had helped build the computer system that they sold to the Attorney General. His assessment? I quote: "It was a piece of sh*t. From the beginning, it was a piece of sh*t."