The father of today’s child support public policy, his personal exploitation of the system, and the fallacy of his “income shares” model in use in Kansas.
by James R. Johnston
Part 1: Dr. Robert Williams and His Influence on Today’s Child Support System. A Question of Ethics?
As anyone familiar with domestic law would know, child support in the United States is a growing multi-billion dollar public policy issue. Much controversy surrounds it, from determination of the amounts owed and by whom, as well as the punitive enforcement measures being undertaken at local, state, and federal levels. Below I detail information about one mans efforts at influencing, establishing, and ultimately exploiting this lucrative “industry.” Dr. Robert Williams, founder and primary owner of a privately held business in Denver, Policy Studies, Inc., has cleverly manipulated and in effect, set up the child support mechanisms throughout the US, working within the federal and various state governments, creating a market from which he has been and continues to profit. He clearly is the “father” of current US child support public policy. His efforts have cost federal and state taxpayers billions of dollars, without appreciably improving the lot of children in spite of the rhetoric to the contrary. In fact, many would argue that in the process, he is harming children through establishment of an overall approach that is out of control, disables noncustodial parents from meaningful involvement with their children, and overall, misses the reality of what child support should truly be.
1. Williams consulted with the US Health and Human Services (HHS) agency’s Office of Child Support Enforcement from 1983-1990, directing research and technical assistance for the federally funded Child Support Guidelines Project. During this time, a federally-driven approach was developed in Washington that has led to significantly increased child support obligations owed. (Dramatic new legislation was passed in Washington in 1984 and in 1988 that he clearly influenced). He consulted with many States as well, and continues to do so today.
2. In 1984, one year after establishing his influence with the government, Williams started Policy Studies, Inc. in Denver with 3 employees.
3. In 1987, for use in consulting with HHS and the various States, Williams developed and introduced a model for child support guidelines called “Income Shares,” now used in some form in at least 31 states. It has led to significantly increased child support obligations (using extremely flawed expenditure data gathered from intact families – SEE PART 2) while providing no built in consideration for “credits” for the expenses related to a child’s time spent with their involved other (noncustodial) parent.
4. Policy Studies two biggest lines of business are general guidelines development consulting based upon the Williams model, and providing child support collections through its subsidiary, Privatization Partnerships Inc. In mid-1997, his company had some 500 employees, with over $21 million in revenues. While consulting he urges adoption of a model (costing large consulting fees in the process, reimbursed at least 67% by federal tax dollars to the state per US public policy) that leads to dramatically increased child support with little or no credits, thereby creating a hardship on noncustodial parents struggling to remain involved with their children. This results in an increased pool of potential child support obligation owed, and increased arrearage for his collection division to exploit.
It is clear that Williams has not only influenced policy through his involvement with the agency responsible for child support enforcement, but with his inside knowledge has developed a consulting business and collection agency targeting privatization opportunities with those he has consulted. In 1996, his company had the greatest number of child support enforcement contracts (covering numerous counties in seven States) of any of the private companies that held State contracts. Reimbursement to his company for child support enforcement ranges from 10-32% of what the company collects according to the General Accounting Office (HEHS97-4). And according to company promotional literature, they currently operate 31 privatized service locations in 15 states. The conflict of interest between Williams consulting to raise child support guidelines and his company’s private Child Support Enforcement activities should be apparent. It should also be apparent that any raises in the child support guideline he obtains in any State can be used as leverage for raising the child support guidelines in another State where he has private child support contracts today, or where he may have them tomorrow. He has continued acting as the pied piper for raising child support guidelines nationally, where he and his company profits.