Advisory Opinion to Woolford (08-06-99)

August 6, 1999

Llewellyn Woolford, Jr.
Office of the General Counsel
U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services
Room 411D, Hubert H. Humphrey Bldg.
200 Independence Avenue SW
Washington, DC 20201-0004

Dear Mr. Woolford:

This responds to your inquiry as to whether Section 604(a)(3)(A) of the Fair Credit Reporting Act ("FCRA") authorizes a state child support enforcement agency ("CSEA") to procure credit reports on child support debtors in connection with the enforcement of child support orders.

Section 604(a)(3)(A) permits creditors or debt collectors to obtain consumer reports in connection with collection of credit accounts. In its Commentary on the FCRA, the Commission stated its view that a "child support agency may obtain a consumer report in connection with enforcement of the report subject's child support obligation, established by court ... orders, since the agency ... is, in effect, collecting a debt."(1) This interpretation of Section 604(a)(3)(A) is a corollary to the Commission's view, also stated in the Commentary,(2) that the provision allows a judgment creditor the same access to consumer reports as a consensual creditor. Pursuant to that analysis, a CSEA that is acting to enforce payment obligations imposed by child support orders (either in its own right or on behalf of a custodial parent) has a permissible purpose to obtain a consumer report on the parent subject to the order.

One provision of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (Public Law 104-193, Title III, Subtitle F, Section 352), which was signed into law on August 22, 1996, added two new subsections that provide agencies with additional authority to obtain consumer reports in connection with their duties relating to child support awards. Section 604(a)(4) now grants state and local CSEAs the authority to obtain consumer reports to establish an individual's capacity to make child support payments and to determine the amount of the payments. Section 604(a)(5) allows certain other state agencies to obtain consumer reports in order to set or modify a child support award. In our view, these additional provisions -- permitting child support authorities to obtain consumer reports on parents in connection with the assessment of child support obligations -- in no way detract from the existing right of such authorities under Section 604(a)(3)(A) to obtain reports to assist in enforcement of final orders.

For the reasons set forth above, we believe that Section 604(a)(3)(A) of the FCRA permits a CSEA to obtain consumer reports on child support debtors in connection with the enforcement of child support orders. The opinions set forth in this informal staff letter are not binding on the Commission.

Sincerely yours,

Clarke W. Brinckerhoff

Endnotes:

1. 16 C.F.R. 600 Appendix, 55 Fed. Reg. 18,804, 18,815 (May 4, 1990); comment 604(3)(A)-3. In the original FCRA, this provision was Section 604(3)(A). It was not changed substantively in the 1996 amendments, but was re-designated Section 604(a)(3)(A) at that time when Subsections (b), (c), (d), (e), (f), and (g) were added to Section 604.

2. Id., comment 604(3)(A)-2.