2003 Citizen Services

Donna Bonar

Created a computer database to track and enforce child support payments.

A computer database helps put food in a child’s mouth. Hard to believe?That’s the legacy of Donna Bonar’s work at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Bonar harnessed the power of technology to build a computer database that helps families across the nation.

Bonar was part of a group of state and federal officials that developed the idea to revamp and vastly improve the Federal Parent Locator Service (FPLS) database&nmash;a comprehensive national computer location system operated by the Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) to help states locate non-custodial parents who owe child support—and once it was set in motion, she oversaw its operation.

The FPLS was expanded by 1996 welfare reform legislation to include two additional resources: The National Directory of New Hires (NDNH), a computer storehouse of employment and wage data on the newly hired; and the Federal Case Registry (FCR), a national database of over 18 million child support cases. Bonar created both on time and under budget, a testament to her deft organizational skills and ability to move large bureaucracies into action. “The bigger the system, the more likely you are to find people who say no,” said former Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, who employed Bonar while he was a city prosecutor. “Donna’s just the opposite.”

Before the FPLS system was built, it took multiple state and local agencies months to enforce child support cases. “It took months, even years, for individual staff at county courthouses to conduct a search for a debtor who had crossed state lines,” said OSCE Commissioner Sherri Heller. “Now, we can find these people in a matter of hours.”

Believing that strong families are the foundation of a strong nation, Bonar has dedicated her life to helping America’s children and families. Originally a public school teacher, she began her public service career as director of the Paternity Division within the Indianapolis Prosecutor’s Office. She launched an aggressive paternity establishment program that became a model for other state and local child support agencies. In 1980, she brought that experience to the OSCE.

Bonar doesn’t leave her commitment to children behind when she leaves her office at the end of each workday. She and her husband Bob, a Department of Health and Human Services attorney, have adopted two children from Korea and Vietnam.

Bonar gives life to the belief that one person can make a difference in the lives of others. One recipient of Bonar’s assistance confirmed the impact of her work: “The importance and benefit of the system was clearly stated by my 10-year old son, Jake, who said, when asked does receiving child support really make a difference, ‘Yes, now that there is food in the icebox when I get home from school, my belly doesn’t ache anymore.’