Accountability and Resource Management – Annual Report 2018
The Judiciary is committed to sound stewardship of public funds, effective and efficient use of resources, and adherence to the highest ethical standards.
The Judiciary conducted a comprehensive review of its workplace conduct policies and procedures in 2018 and began implementing a series of recommendations from the Federal Judiciary Workplace Conduct Working Group, a body of judges and senior Judiciary officials established by James C. Duff, Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO), at the request of the Chief Justice. The Working Group’s report, issued June 1, 2018, provides a blueprint for “establishing and maintaining an exemplary workplace for all our employees,” Duff said.
Some changes were implemented quickly. The Judicial Conference provided new guidance to law clerks making it clear that the confidentiality necessary for their work in chambers does not prohibit reporting of inappropriate conduct. Enhancements were made to the Model Employment Dispute Resolution Plan to cover paid and unpaid interns and externs, and to extend the time to file a complaint from 30 to 180 days. Many courts use the model plan as a guide in setting up their dispute resolution procedures for employees.
Other recommendations by the Working Group involved amending the Codes of Conduct for U.S. Judges and the Rules for Judicial Conduct and Judicial Disability. After proposed amendments were drafted, written comments from the public and interested parties were solicited and a day-long public hearing was held in October 2018. At year’s end, the two Judicial Conference committees with jurisdiction over these areas were reviewing the comments and testimony and were expected to report to the Conference in early 2019.
Among the proposals under review are provisions that make explicit a prohibition on “behavior that is harassing, abusive, prejudiced, or biased” and on retaliating against individuals for reporting allegations of misconduct. The Working Group also said, “The code should make clear that a judge has an affirmative duty to promote civility, not only in the courtroom, but throughout the courthouse ...The Judiciary would benefit from explicit recognition that the judicial virtues of mutual respect, independence, and collegiality should not prevent a judge from intervening when necessary to protect an employee from another judge’s inappropriate conduct.”
In other actions, the AO and the Federal Judicial Center:
- Created a separate working group to conduct a comprehensive review of the model plan for employment dispute resolutions to strengthen its protections and make it more accessible to employees. The review continued into 2019.
- Established the Office of Judicial Integrity, which will serve as an independent source of information and referral for answering questions related to workplace conduct and providing guidance on conflict resolution, mediation, and formal complaint options. The AO’s first Judicial Integrity Officer was named in late 2018.
- Added and expanded educational and training programs to raise awareness of conduct issues, prevent discrimination and harassment, and promote civility throughout the Judiciary. The training was added to orientation programs for new judges, law clerks, and other employees, and also to leadership conferences throughout the year.
- Reached out to law school deans and National Association of Law Placement representatives to establish a dialogue about law clerks’ workplace experiences.
The Working Group’s report was based on months of study of workplace conduct issues in the public and private sectors. Its work was guided by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s 2016 Study of Harassment in the Workplace. The Working Group was unanimous in its findings and in its two dozen detailed recommendations. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. focused his Year-End Report on the progress made by the Judiciary on workplace conduct issues and endorsed the Working Group’s recommendations.
Work Group members are: Chief Judge Jeffrey R. Howard, First Circuit Court of Appeals; Judge Margaret McKeown, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals; Chief Judge Julie A. Robinson, of the District of Kansas; Judge Sarah S. Vance, of the Eastern Louisiana District; Jeffrey P. Minear, counselor to the Chief Justice; Margaret A. Wiegand, circuit executive for the Third Circuit; John S. Cooke, director of the Federal Judicial Center; and Sheryl Walter, the AO general counsel. AO Director Duff chaired the Working Group.
The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing called “Confronting Sexual Harassment in the Federal Judiciary” in June. AO Director Duff testified about the Working Group’s findings, recommendations, and actions taken to date.
Rigorous Audits and Internal Controls
Regular audits ensure the validity and accuracy of the Judiciary’s financial statements. They also examine and report on the effectiveness of internal controls designed to mitigate the risk of financial misstatement, fraud, waste, or abuse. During fiscal year 2018, the AO completed 182 audits of the Judiciary’s national programs and funds, court units, federal defender organizations, and – for the six districts served by the bankruptcy administrator program – trustees and debtors.
Most Judiciary audits are financial statement audits, which include the opinion of an independent audit firm on whether statements under review are presented fairly and without material misstatements. Financial statement audits also report on internal controls over administrative areas and compliance with related laws, policies, and procedures. The audit program reflects the Judiciary’s decentralized system for financial reporting, which requires separate financial statements for courts, national programs, Judiciary appropriations, and other funds.
The Court Registry Investment System
As of November 2018, the Court Registry Investment System (CRIS) managed $2.3 billion in registry funds for 167 district and bankruptcy courts, providing innovative solutions in a complex area of financial management. Registry funds are 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, when the funds are paid to the appropriate parties with interest. In 2018, two court units joined the program. Nearly all federal courts are now participating.
A new disputed ownership fund in CRIS marked its one-year anniversary in 2018. It was created to manage the special federal income tax treatment required for certain funds. This approach provides an efficient, cost-effective, centralized way for the Judiciary to comply with federal tax regulations.
Emphasis on Cost Containment
Each year, the Judiciary looks for ways to cut costs and improve efficiency throughout the court system to better serve the public and spend public funds wisely. There were several initiatives underway in 2018 aimed at cost containment.
- The Judiciary capped a multi-year effort to cut costs by exceeding its goal of reducing its building space by 3 percent nationally. It has reduced its space footprint by more than 1.1 million square feet, cutting annual rent payments by approximately $36 million. The Judiciary has achieved $107 million in savings since the initiative began in 2013.
- The bankruptcy courts have moved steadily in the direction of electronic transactions both to save money and to make the bankruptcy process easier for filers. In fiscal year 2018, electronic bankruptcy noticing saved the Judiciary $7.6 million in postage and paper costs.
- The Judiciary’s new national forensics laboratory marked its first full year of operation in 2018. The lab at the Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse in St. Louis helps federal probation and pretrial officers around the country as they supervise increasingly tech savvy populations. It saves time and money because courts can use the lab’s services in lieu of setting up their own individual labs, and they get faster results than they had been getting using outside law enforcement agencies.
- A March 2018 analysis by the Judicial Conference Committee on Court Administration and Case Management showed a significant drop in court library spending on hard copy materials in recent years in favor of online research resources. Total spending on research materials fell approximately $1.2 million from fiscal year 2016 to fiscal year 2018 as a result of the shift to online resources.
Government Accountability Office Studies
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) regularly conducts studies related to Judiciary operations. Two GAO studies were closed in 2018 with recommendations for the Judiciary. One report was based on a GAO finding that, in some cases, information on criminal restitution orders was not available in U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) data. The AO and USSC were working throughout 2018 to address this issue in consultation with judges.
In response to a second study, on the topic of Judiciary’s annual financial disclosure requirements, the AO is implementing a formal system to ensure that all required congressional reporting is timely.
At the close of 2018, there were six ongoing GAO studies involving the Judiciary, including one looking at the impact on resources of criminal prosecutions for some immigration cases. There was also progress toward fully addressing prior GAO recommendations. The Judiciary has now implemented the recommendation from the 2017 report, Federal Courthouses: Actions Needed to Enhance Capital Security Program and Address Collaboration Issues (GAO-17-215). The GAO recommended that a joint working group be formed with the General Services Administration, the Federal Protective Service, and the U.S. Marshals Service. Also, work continued on fully implementing the recommendations in a 2015 study on the Judiciary’s cost containment during sequestration and a 2016 study about cost savings from space reductions by the appellate courts.