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NOMADS program to enforce child support is too big, too costly

by Sharon Carter

The sheer size of the new NOMADS computer system designed to track the state’s welfare and child support enforcement programs makes it very challenging for larger counties to use and next to impossible for smaller jurisdictions.

To make it work, Douglas County District Attorney Scott Doyle said his office could be forced to double its number of child support enforcement case workers from four to eight.

And, he said, the situation is even more dismal for counties smaller than Douglas.

If nothing is done and the state can’t be federally certified, it could cost millions of dollars in fines which would then be passed along to the counties.

The circumstance which will bring Doyle before the county commission Thursday also sent Gov. Kenny Guinn to a meeting in San Francisco Monday. Guinn met with officials from other states to work on solutions.

n Nevada not alone. Nevada and half a dozen other states, including California, are lagging behind in complying with a 1988 federal mandate which requires them to develop computer networks to store information on child support cases and which can interface with the federal government.

Already, missed deadlines in 1995 and 1997 because of problems with Nevada’s $95 million NOMADS program could result in fines. If a Sept. 30 federal budget deadline is also missed, the potential for fines is increased.

Since last fall, Douglas, Washoe and Clark counties have been running pilot operations to test NOMADS, an acronym for Nevada Operations of Multi-Automated Data Systems. The program was built to order by IBM to administer both the state’s welfare and child support enforcement programs. And according to Doyle, the dual nature of the program could be one of the reasons it is “an extremely complex system that is difficult to work in.”

Although the larger counties have also said there are problems implementing the system, the biggest problem is staffing – it takes resources Douglas County and the state’s smaller counties do not have.

“We already have four case workers in our office, but we’d need eight to make it work and we can’t afford to do it,” Doyle said Monday.

“The smaller counties, which have one case worker, or in some instances one half-time worker, won’t have even the moderate success we’ve had so far. The state shares the costs and they can’t afford it either. We need to lay it out before the county commission and get some direction.”

Doyle said he has submitted a proposal to state officials which might make the program functional for the rural counties.

“If we could regionalize the child support enforcement, we could instantly bring enough resources together to make it functional,” Doyle said.

He said the state welfare system already operates under such an administrative system.

“The county has a May 17 deadline for putting things into the budget, and the state has a May 31 deadline, we have to address this as soon as possible,” he said.

n Daunting process. Douglas County’s four case workers have converted 75 of their 1,450 files since December. They must work in the old program while learning the massive new one.

Clark County, which has loaded 150 of its 45,000 cases, estimates it will be June 30, 2000, before it is fully operational in NOMADS.

C.A. Watts,director of the Clark County District Attorney’s family support office, which has 185 case workers to handle child support issues, said his office has developed a work plan to get it done.

“We’ve dedicated staff to get it done – assigning some workers to be specialists in separate areas of the program,” Watts said. “In the smaller counties, where the worker has to do everything, be a generalist, it’s got to be overwhelming.”

Watts said it has not been smooth sailing, even with the dedicated staff. His assessment and staffing strategies are shared by Washoe County Assistant District Attorney Maddy Shipman.

“We’re asked to sign on to a system which requires doubling of staff in smaller jurisdictions or a lot of upgrades in the larger ones,” Shipman said. “It’s an albatross system that requires 150 percent effort from every one. The system is difficult to work in and needs to be upgraded immediately.”