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Accountability and Resource Management - Annual Report 2016

The Judiciary uses numerous tools and protocols that foster sound stewardship of public funds, effective and efficient use of resources, and adherence to the highest ethical standards.

Cover of Strategic Plan for the Federal Judiciary

Strategic Planning

Updated in 2015, the Strategic Plan for the Federal Judiciary has fostered greater consideration of Judiciary-wide strategic issues in national policy deliberations, while providing needed flexibility and discretion to Judicial Conference committees. Conference committees consider priority strategies and goals from the plan when developing meeting agendas, choosing initiatives to pursue, and assessing the impact of policy recommendations, resource allocation decisions, and cost-containment measures.

In February 2016, after considering suggestions from its committees, the Conference’s Executive Committee designated as a priority the refining and updating of security practices to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of Judiciary records and information. Other priorities include improving the delivery of justice; securing adequate resources and allocating them efficiently and effectively; harnessing technology’s full potential; and communicating and collaborating with organizations outside the Judiciary to promote greater public understanding of the Third Branch.

Improving Financial Management

In 2016, the Judiciary continued deployment of its next-generation Judiciary Integrated Financial Management System (JIFMS), the official financial and procurement management system replacing FAS4T. Forty of the 94 judicial districts completed deployment of JIFMS as of the end of the year; most of the appellate courts completed deployment the previous year. JIFMS enables Administrative Office (AO), court, and federal defender personnel to use a single application to record and maintain the Judiciary’s financial and procurement information and to report on that data. JIFMS interfaces with other Judiciary systems and U.S. Treasury systems, eliminating duplicative data entry and strengthening internal controls.

Financial Forum

The 2016 Financial Forum was an opportunity for court employees to share strategies and best practices, and to learn about financial management policy changes.

In April 2016, court unit executives and finance, budget, and procurement professionals from court units and federal public defender organizations attended the 2016 Financial Forum, where they shared strategies and best practices and learned about financial management policy changes. Among the topics covered were JIFMS, the Court Registry Investment System (CRIS), management of local travel, the basics of salary allotments, best practices for contract administration and solicitation, and the importance of internal controls, accountability, and transparency.

 A live webcast of the program generated 5,400 views from court employees unable to attend in person. Session videos and other materials were made available on the Judiciary’s intranet, where court employees could continue to view them on demand.

The Court Registry Investment System

As of November 2016, CRIS managed $3.4 billion in registry funds for 144 district and bankruptcy courts and provided innovative solutions in a complex area of financial management. Registry funds refer to funds that are submitted by parties to litigation, which a court holds pending resolution of the litigation or determination of ownership. The CRIS funds are invested in Treasury securities until the court orders disbursement, at which time the funds are paid to the appropriate parties with interest. In 2016, 20 court units joined the program, a 14 percent increase in the number of courts participating.

The AO is establishing a disputed ownership fund in CRIS to manage the special federal income tax treatment required for certain funds. This approach will provide an efficient, cost-effective, centralized way for the Judiciary to comply with federal tax regulations.

Internal Control Tools

In 2015, the AO’s Internal Control Evaluation (ICE) system was upgraded, and in 2016, the upgraded ICE system was deployed to courts in coordination with their transition to JIFMS. All court units as well as federal defender organizations (FDO) in 40 districts were trained in using JIFMS ICE, which enables managers to assess compliance with internal control requirements. The application’s separation-of-duties component helps courts and defender organizations identify and address situations that may be inconsistent with Judiciary policies requiring separate individuals to perform certain financial and administrative actions. The upgrades also make possible data-mining reports that can highlight financial transactions for further scrutiny and trend analysis.

Self-Assessment Tool

Another AO internal control resource is the Self-Assessment Tool, which provides court units and FDOs with step-by-step instructions for annually assessing the adequacy of, and compliance with, internal controls. Updated in 2016, the tool saves time, reduces common errors, and allows customization for each court unit. In-person training sessions were offered to court staff.

Internal Controls Outreach

In 2016, the AO worked to raise awareness and provide information about internal controls to the courts. Informational materials were updated on JNet, the Judiciary’s intranet, including internal controls manuals from three court units that serve as examples for other units. Briefings were held at the 2016 Financial Forum and at conferences for district and bankruptcy court clerks.

Making Court Operations More Efficient

The court review program offers chief judges and court unit executives a comprehensive review of their operations with the aim of improving effectiveness and efficiency. At the invitation of a chief judge or unit executive, AO staff work with the court to define scope and goals. Review topics can include, for example, organizational structure, information technology, quality control, jury processes, and pro se law clerk programs.  After gathering information and surveying the staff, a team organized by the AO conducts an on-site visit. The team typically includes AO subject-matter experts as well as court unit executives and court managers. Their subsequent final report makes recommendations that the court’s local managers can use to reallocate resources, adjust program priorities, change procedures, or take other actions to improve effectiveness and efficiency.

Study of Court Organization

The Judicial Conference’s Court Administration and Case Management (CACM) Committee is leading a study of court organizational structures to identify and evaluate a variety of cost-containment proposals. In 2016, a subcommittee of the CACM Committee and representatives from other committees drafted a plan focusing on three organizational concepts for managing court administration:  (1) “vertical” integration of bankruptcy and district clerk’s offices within a district; (2) “horizontal” integration of clerk’s offices across districts; and (3) shared administrative services models.  The group is analyzing court operational data involving shared administrative services to assess whether various options could reduce costs and increase efficiencies.

Government Accountability Office Studies

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) regularly conducts studies related to Judiciary operations. In 2016, the GAO issued the following studies (only the first two contained recommendations directed to the Judiciary): Lower-Cost Alternatives for Courthouse Security; U.S. Courts of Appeals Space Utilization; Programs Authorized Under the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act; The Department of Justice’s Use of Alternative Approaches for Incarcerating Federal Offenders and Low and Minimum Security Inmates; and Access to Video and Audio Recordings of Supreme Court Proceedings.

The GAO’s courthouse security report contained four recommendations, three of which were primarily directed at the General Services Administration (GSA) and other government agencies involved in courthouse security. The recommendation directly relevant to the Judiciary suggested that the AO work with GSA and the other agencies to improve transparency and collaboration. The Judiciary took steps in 2016 to enhance communication and collaboration with GSA, the U.S. Marshals Service, and Federal Protective Services.

The U.S. Courts of Appeals space usage study favorably described the Judiciary’s space reduction efforts and acknowledged the challenges facing the courts in reducing their footprints. The GAO recommended that the AO document and share best practices on innovative and cost-effective approaches with all the regional courts.  The AO responded that it would continue to evaluate new ways to gather and share information about innovative space reduction practices across the Judiciary.

Five GAO studies involving the Judiciary remained active at the end of the year: Indian Youth and the Juvenile Justice System; Central States Pension Fund Consent Decree; Immigration Court Management and Structure; Foreign Ownership of Government-Leased Space; and Spending Authority and Permanent Appropriations.

FISA Courts Report

In April 2016, the AO submitted its first annual report to Congress on certain activities of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review (collectively referred to as the FISA Courts). The report makes it easier for Congress and the public to understand FISA Courts activities, including information about the volume of the government surveillance applications that the court reviews.  According to the report, 836 of the 1,010 government applications received by the court were granted, 169 were modified, and five were denied.  The five denials included applications that the government did not ultimately submit after being informed that denial was likely. The report also shows that 17 percent of government-proposed orders were significantly modified by the FISC, which is consistent with prior statistics released by the court. The annual report is required by the USA Freedom Act of 2015.