July 14, 2016 by Don Hubin, PhD, Chair, Executive Committee, National Parents Organization of Ohio
Think the federal government doesn’t know what it’s doing? Here’s a little evidence to support your belief.
In November of 2014, almost 20 months ago, I submitted a request to the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). What did I want? Something I thought it would be easy for them to provide; some information I actually expected would be available online, though I hadn’t managed to find it.
You see, the legislation establishing federal oversight of state child support guidelines requires each state to review its guidelines every four years (45 C.F.R. § 302.56). The states don’t do it on the same schedule and I wanted to know when each state would be doing the next review. I also asked for OCSE’s records of whether the reviews were completed on schedule as required.
Now, one would think that this would be an easy FOIA request for them to comply with. Indeed, one could imagine the bureaucrat charged with complying with FOIA requests for the OCSE to breathe a sigh of relief upon opening my request. “Finally, an easy one!”
And, when I received a call from the OCSE just days later, as I was ambling through my local Costco, I thought I was going to get the information quickly. I expected the person who called me to say, “No problem; we’ll send it along right away,” or maybe even, “That information is available online at this site.”
It didn’t happen quite like that, but the person did tell me that she thought she’d be able to get the information to me pretty quickly. The FOIA statute requires a response within 20 days, though there are extenuating circumstances that might allow for a delayed request. But I didn’t see why any of those would arise with respect to my request.
Days passed. Weeks passed. Months passed. From time to time, I thought about sending a letter asking for a status update. Out of the blue, just today, 601 days after I’d submitted my request, I received an emailed response. I eagerly opened the attachment, hoping to find a list of the schedule on which each of the states fulfilled its statutorily mandated child support guidelines review and the OCSE’s determination that the states were, in fact, in compliance with federal law in conducting these reviews.
Alas, I was to be disappointed! The letter was brief. The key part said only this:
“We referred the matter to Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) where we reasonably believe that records might be kept if they existed. OCSE performed a search and found no responsive documents.”
Now, I have the right to appeal, and I will do so. But, at this point at least, it appears that the federal office charged with overseeing the states’ reviews of their child support guidelines doesn’t know when each state is supposed to conduct its review or, indeed, whether any state has ever done so as required by federal regulations.
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