Saying that he wants the government to be a model for private employers, President Clinton signed an executive order Monday to help force deadbeat parents in the federal work force to pay the child support they owe.
Under the order, federal agencies, including the military, must help enforce child support and paternity actions against their employees by assisting in the service of legal papers and by searching their personnel records for names of delinquent parents.
The practical impact of the order will be limited, since the military and most other federal agencies already have begun such steps. "This will mostly help us do better the things we are already doing," a Pentagon spokesman said.
And the White House acknowledged in a fact sheet that the number of federal employees affected "is relatively small."
But Clinton, seizing a rare chance to use his presidential power without having to dicker with the Republican-controlled Congress, signed the order in an Oval Office ceremony.
"Any parent who is avoiding his or her child support should listen carefully. We will find you, we will catch you, we will make you pay," the President said.
And he linked the order to the themes of his welfare reform proposal: parents' responsibility coupled with compassion for children. "People who bear children and bring them into this world have an absolute responsibility to do their best to take care of them. And any parent who isn't paying child support should be required to pay," he said. "Children should not suffer for their parents' mistakes."
White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry said that the order shows Clinton is "willing to accept the responsibility that we have within government to follow through on exactly the kind of things we hope the Congress will consider important, specifically the need for tough child enforcement measures."
The White House said a recent computer search of federal employee records turned up more than 105,000 "matches" with state courts' lists of delinquent parents, including about 75,000 in the military.
But the Defense Department said that those numbers overstate the problem because some delinquent parents are sought by more than one state. The correct number for the military is about 48,000, the Pentagon said, including about 15,000 active duty military personnel, 4,000 civilian employees, 22,000 reservists and 1,700 retirees.