An Interview with Vicki Turetsky
Steven Golightly and Natalie Dillon collaborated on this interview and on this article.
These are sage words of wisdom from former Federal Child Support Commissioner, Vicki Turetsky. Natalie Dillon and I recently had an opportunity to interview Commissioner Turetsky a few weeks after she left office. Our discussions ranged from reflections on her eight years in office, to implementation of the Flexibility, Efficiency and Modernization in Child Support Enforcement Program rule, published in 2016, to personal perspectives on the next chapter in her life. This article is intended to capture some of the highlights of the 90 minutes we spent together.
We were curious to know how a job description would read for the Commissioner position, if one actually existed. The job is political, and it is a political appointment – so ultimately the requirements are defined by the President, the HHS Secretary, and the Assistant Secretary for Children and Families – serving at their pleasure.
She shared that she saw four basic duties – being the public face of child support for the Administration, shaping and setting overall direction and policy for the program, managing the operations of the national program, and managing the office itself – more than 300 federal OCSE staff and 23 physical offices. Ironically, even though the Commissioner is the public face of the program, final decision making authority is more limited than most people would think, with several other agencies involved in significant decisions.
When we asked, what surprised her most about the job, she said “how the federal government is organized.” She thought, as many do, that the federal government would be like a state, but bigger – more bureaucracy – but basically a vertical hierarchy and that things would simply be pushed up the chain. However, she quickly learned that while the federal government certainly had a vertical hierarchy, it also had a lateral hierarchy. There are staff offices performing decision making roles in every area – not just in personnel, but also in policy, legislation, technology, customer service and communications. These offices were designed to be a check on the program – a check and balance system, if you will. She said “that’s a lot of people in your business.”
We then encouraged the Commissioner to zero in on some major accomplishments that she was particularly proud of. Not surprisingly, she talked about helping to reframe the child support program to improve program effectiveness and collection rates by promoting family-centered strategies. She was proud of the movement toward systems modernization, the re-platforming of FPLS, and strengthening the oversight of state systems. Working toward acceptance and approval of the Hague Treaty was also high on her list.
Implementation of the rule was the next topic we broached. Specifically, we wanted to know which aspect of the final rule would have most significant impact on the program. She voiced a hope that the discussion about providing a stable funding stream for employment services for unemployed non-custodial parents would continue. Codifying the ability to pay for setting orders and contempt was also high on her list. She expressed optimism that the income requirements would close the gap between public child support practice and private child support practice by pushing child support programs to investigate cases more thoroughly and to follow normal evidentiary standards – the standards used in private cases.
Finally, we asked Vicki what she would be doing in retirement. She recalled that she left her OCSE office at noon on Inauguration Day and then immediately departed with her husband to go to Florida and spend time with family. She has been seeing friends and grandchildren and catching up on many things that had been left behind in the wayside during the past eight years. She told us that she was still trying to figure out how to continue being useful and to be civically engaged.
On behalf of all the child support professionals in California, we thanked her for her support for CSDA over these past many years. In turn, she asked us to share her appreciation to all our colleagues in the state for their commitment and passion for children and families. Commissioner Turetsky left a lasting mark on the child support program in so many ways and will be remembered for such for years to come.
On a personal note, Natalie and I agreed that we would miss seeing and talking to her. I think all of us agree that she’s quite a lady – and quite a leader……….a true inspiration to so many in the child support community.