In a finding suggesting the Australian Government is getting better at data quality, the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) has concluded that data integrity is reasonably high in one of the more complex although by no means the largest of the Australian Government's databases.
But while finding the database pretty much fit for purpose, it has recommended the Child Support Agency adopt a range of measures to identify and address weaknesses in its data quality control systems.
On the whole, the ANAO says, Cuba 2, the primary electronic database supporting the administration of the Child Support Scheme, is accurate, complete and reliable.
But having considered at length aspects of the CSA's data capture and recording practices, it wants the agency to extend its recently introduced Data Quality Improvement Programme, including a series of activities designed to test specific aspects of data quality in Cuba, to incorporate a comprehensive check of the application of all relevant business rules within the database.
And it says the CSA should draw on the audit findings, along with information obtained through its Data Quality Improvement Programme, to identify and address weaknesses in data quality control systems. It says including some controls -- like ensuring "end date" does not precede a "start date", within a line of data -- will be relatively straightforward while others, such as enforcing a standardized approach to recording names and addresses, may be more challenging, while being essential to improving customer data quality.
Since the introduction of the Child Support Scheme in 1988 the CSA has managed a total of 1.4 million child support cases involving almost 4.6 million people, and transferred some $2.68 billion in child support payments between parents in 2006-2007 alone. At June 2007, the CSA managed an active caseload of approximately 800,000 child support cases, involving around 1.4 million parents and approximately 1.2 million children.
The data in Cuba 2 is organized around a number of core business functions including: case management; customer relationship management; child support assessments; accounting; and administrative support. Cuba's design incorporates two significant data constructs -- case and customer, with each case involving a number of customers, a payer, a payee and one or more children -- and each customer having the possibility of being involved in more than one child support case.
That makes Cuba one of the more complex Australian government databases, considering the various relationships that can exist between payers, payees, children, third parties, employers, financial institutions and overseas government agencies, across multiple child support cases.
The ANAO concluded the majority of records in Cuba are sufficiently accurate, complete and reliable to support the effective administration of the Child Support Scheme, with relatively few anomalous records.
But it said while relatively few in number compared to the entire record set, the presence of erroneous records in the database indicates a weakness in effective control systems for data entry and recording.
"Most of the errors and weaknesses identified in this audit pose a minimal risk to the CSA's overall administration of the Child Support Scheme. However, particular errors or anomalies on individual records can result in an inaccurate calculation of child support liability. For the families involved, the effects can be significant. One of the objectives of the Child Support Scheme is that 'parents share in the cost of supporting their children according to their capacity'. Incorrect child support liability calculations, resulting from errors on customer records, pose a risk to the achievement of this objective," the report says.
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