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Crowning achievement | Kurt Sandstrom

Monday, July 22, 2019 @ 2:13 PM | By Kurt Sandstrom

Kurt Sandstrom %>
Kurt Sandstrom
In May, the B.C. government announced the establishment of a new Crown agency for the delivery of support enforcement services. For the past 30 years, government delivered the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program (FMEP) under contract with a private company. During this time, government remained responsible for the legislation that directed enforcement services, and for the policies under which the program was delivered. The recent change moves the services closer to government.

The reasons for the change are many, but relate primarily to the changing nature of contracted services. In the late 1980s, government expanded the role of the private sector in the delivery of government services. For the support enforcement program, this was very successful. The private contractor was able to focus on a consolidated set of services that resulted in a very client-centred approach to a program that deals with the copious changes separated and divorced families experience.

All the necessary components were co-located: the legal services that support case management decisions; the financial services that track and adjust payments; the communications services that are essential for clients and service partners; and the IT services that form the backbone of the operation.

The form of contract was a “cost plus” model; government set and funded the operational objectives and activities for a fiscal year and a separate amount was paid for a management fee.

Over time, the cost plus model of contracting faded, replaced by a fixed price model that defines the set of services to be delivered by the contractor. A single amount is paid and any balance remaining after the operations are delivered forms the return for the contractor.

The success of any contracted model is often established in the tendering process. The fixed price model works well for short-term contracts and for services that are limited in scope to a major deliverable. Its applicability to, and effectiveness for, a range of services from communications products to building bridges is proven. However, for integrated services such as a program that families rely on for years, and that changes in terms of activities, this approach has its limitations. The result is often a sparse number of specialized vendors.

This was the experience of government with respect to support enforcement services.

After thorough analysis, consultation and consideration, the decision was made to keep the most successful components of the existing model, but move from a contracted service to the establishment of a specialized agency. This decision provides increased protection against the risk of disruption to services that would result from a change of contractors, and retains the specialized and integrated nature of the service. Run efficiently, the new model offers the potential for lower cost as the Crown agency is not expected to turn a profit.

Will there be big changes in moving the existing services into a Crown agency? In short, we hope not. The model adopted is one that brings the existing staff, with the existing equipment and assets, into the new Crown agency. While the ownership of assets changes, nothing needs to physically move. The same skilled staff will continue to deliver the same services.

This is a good thing. FMEP started in 1988 and helped families receive $445,000 in the first year. The program now helps families receive that same amount in a single morning. Payments through the program have exceeded $200 million per year for the past six years, with a total of over $4 billion paid since the program’s inception. Program staff field over 400,000 telephone conversations with clients each year, and FMEP’s web services are accessed over 1.7 million times. This is a service that 70,000 parents and over 50,000 children can count on to be available to them.

Those families remain connected to FMEP for a long time, with the average enrolment now exceeding nine years. The circumstances of both the parents and the children will change, and FMEP will help parents address those changes. Some support obligations will be recalculated, while others will be adjusted to account for currency exchange rates when parents live in different countries.

In any service that addresses both legal and other issues, it is critical that the legal services be available to both staff and, where required, the courts. FMEP has a team of dedicated legal counsel who are experts in their field. They provide advice to staff and represent the director of maintenance enforcement in over 800 cases per year.

The changes made to the delivery model for FMEP services should serve the public well — hopefully for the next 30 years.

Kurt Sandstrom has been the assistant deputy minister of Justice Services Branch, with the B.C. Ministry of the Attorney General, since June 2016. He also teaches law, public policy and dispute resolution at the University of Victoria. He lives and works on the traditional territories of the Lekwungen-speaking peoples, now known as the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations.
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