- The Washington Times - Monday, December 10, 2001

The new commissioner of the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement arrives as an unknown on the national stage but with the enthusiastic blessing of government officials.
Sherri Z. Heller, a Pennsylvania welfare official, was tapped for the OCSE job in September. She was officially cleared for the post in November.
Mrs. Heller "brings enormous experience, not only in the child-support enforcement world, but more broadly in human services," said Wade F. Horn, assistant secretary for children and families at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson "is very interested in having people work for him who are bold, innovative, and who want to improve things, especially services to our constituencies," Mr. Horn said. "I think she's exactly the perfect person. She fits that bill to a T."
On Sept. 6, when Mrs. Heller's appointment was announced, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge praised her work in welfare reform and credited her for making Pennsylvania "a national leader in child-support enforcement programs," with $9.3 billion in collections.
Mrs. Heller, who has a Ph.D. from Harvard University, won out over a field of candidates that was rumored to include several state child-support directors.
Her career has included stints in Lancaster, Pa., county offices and the Pennsylvania Department of Education, including several years as chief of the Division of Fiscal Administration.
"I'm thrilled to be part of this administration," Mrs. Heller told The Washington Times in an interview last week. "It's clear that expectations are very high for removing any bureaucratic barriers to real results for families."
Mrs. Heller's agency faces major collection issues: Last year, the nation's child-support system collected a record $17.9 billion. This meant that a record 7.2 million cases had some money collected on them.
But states estimate that $23 billion is due this year, plus another $84 billion due from previous years.
This enormous gap between what is collected and what is estimated to be due is what perpetually angers and dismays lawmakers, families and advocates.
Mrs. Heller said that after the 1996 welfare law passed with dozens of child-support reforms, state child-support agencies "reinvented" themselves with new technology and sought to take advantage of "incredibly powerful" enforcement tools.
"But I don't think customers have really seen the benefits yet," she said.
"One of Dr. Heller's first tasks is to increase collections," said Mr. Horn, who added that the OCSE is already developing a five-year plan to improve child support.
When Mrs. Heller's appointment was first announced, many child-support advocates were mystified. "Nobody knows who she is" was a common refrain, and several advocates suggested that Mrs. Heller's main attraction had to be her connection to Mr. Ridge, a favorite of the Bush administration and now the nation's homeland security director.
The new commissioner has since met with child-support leaders and left many favorable impressions.
Mrs. Heller "clearly has some knowledge about child support, and we're hopeful that she will quickly get up to speed on the rest of the program and that she'll have some authority within the department to improve child-support enforcement," said Geraldine Jensen, president of the Association for Children for Enforcement of Support.
"We're pleased to see that she is focusing on the emotional and psychological support of children, as well as their financial needs," said Stuart Miller, senior legislative analyst for the American Fathers Coalition in Washington.
With welfare reauthorization next year, "there will be a lot of relooking at the program," said Kay Farley, president of the National Child Support Enforcement Association. "I think she's going to do extremely well."

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