Accountability and Resource Management – Annual Report 2019
The Judiciary is committed to adherence to the highest ethical standards, the sound stewardship of public funds, and the effective and efficient use of public resources.
Workplace Conduct Policy Changes
During 2019, the Judiciary implemented reforms that clarify and strengthen the standards of conduct for judges and Judiciary employees to enhance professionalism, civility, and accountability in the workplace. The changes were recommended in the 2018 report of the Federal Judiciary Workplace Conduct Working Group, created at the request of Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr.
The report was the product of a comprehensive review of the Judiciary’s workplace conduct policies and procedures conducted over several months by the Working Group, made up of judges and senior court executives. The report, issued on June 1, 2018, provides a blueprint for “establishing and maintaining an exemplary workplace for all our employees,” said James C. Duff, Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO).
In March 2019, the Judicial Conference approved a package of workplace conduct-related provisions stating the obligations of judges and Judiciary employees to report reliable information likely to constitute misconduct, making clear that confidentiality obligations should never be an obstacle to reporting judicial misconduct or disability, and specifying that retaliation for disclosing misconduct is itself misconduct. The changes were implemented as amendments to the Code of Conduct for United States Judges and the Code of Conduct for Judicial Employees and as revisions to the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act rules.
The amendments make clear that misconduct includes:
- Engaging in unwanted, offensive, or abusive sexual conduct, including sexual harassment or assault;
- Treating judicial employees or others in a demonstrably egregious and hostile manner;
- Creating a hostile work environment for judicial employees;
- Intentionally discriminating on the basis of race, color, sex, gender, gender identity, pregnancy, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, age, or disability;
- Retaliating against complainants, witnesses, judicial employees, or others for participating in the complaint process or reporting or disclosing judicial misconduct or disability; and
- Failing to call to the attention of the chief district or circuit judge reliable information about actions reasonably likely to constitute judicial misconduct or disability, with certain protections when the complainant requests confidentiality.
The changes also clarified confidentiality obligations of law clerks and other employees to state explicitly that such obligations do not prevent the reporting of judicial misconduct or suspected judicial disability.
The Workplace Conduct Working Group met in 2019 to review the status of these and other initiatives and continues to meet as needed.
New Office of Judicial Integrity
As recommended by the Working Group, the Office of Judicial Integrity (OJI) was created at the AO in January 2019 and the first judicial integrity officer was subsequently appointed to the new post. The office provides current and former Judiciary employees with confidential counseling, guidance, and intervention related to sexual harassment and other forms of harassment, discrimination, and workplace misconduct. The OJI also conducts workplace conduct training for judges and court executives and managers.
In 2019, the OJI added features to the Judiciary’s intranet website and its external website, USCourts.gov, that allow for the confidential reporting of misconduct and provide access to related resources. In addition, the OJI served as a point of contact for law schools to alert the Judiciary to misconduct experienced or observed by former students during clerkships.
In addition, in 2019, the AO began providing funding to the circuits to establish similar offices to support their workplace conduct activities. The funding ensures that courts have the personnel they need to implement these important policies. The national OJI serves as a clearinghouse for court-based workplace relations staff.
Revised Model Plan for Resolving Employment Disputes
In September 2019, the Judicial Conference approved a new model employment dispute resolution (EDR) plan that simplifies and expands the options for employees to address workplace conduct issues. The revised model EDR plan clearly defines harassment, discrimination, abusive conduct, and other wrongful conduct; offers flexible, informal avenues to report wrongful conduct; and requires annual training to increase supervisor and employee awareness of EDR rights and options to resolve workplace misconduct. The model EDR plan was developed by the AO’s Model Employment Dispute Resolution Working Group following a Judiciary-wide comment period.
Rigorous Audits and Internal Controls
Each year, the AO conducts audits to assess the accuracy of the Judiciary’s financial statements. The audits also examine the effectiveness of internal controls put in place to mitigate the risk of financial misstatement, fraud, waste, or abuse. During fiscal year 2019, the AO completed 221 audits of the Judiciary’s 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. 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. With the support of advisory groups and Judicial Conference committees, the AO in 2019 launched a five-year effort to implement changes to the Judiciary’s financial reporting model that will result in consolidated annual financial statements that reflect all Judiciary activity completely and accurately. The effort is aimed at strengthening transparency and accountability to the public.
Government Accountability Office Studies
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) regularly conducts studies related to Judiciary operations. In 2019, three GAO studies were closed. None had specific recommendations for the Judiciary.
Also, the Judiciary made progress in 2019 toward addressing prior GAO recommendations. In a report on federal criminal restitution, the GAO recommended that the AO and the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) examine why, in a small number of cases, the reasons for not ordering restitution did not appear in USSC data. The GAO suggested that, if warranted, action should be taken to ensure the data records include all required information. AO and USSC staff subsequently reminded the appropriate Judiciary personnel about the importance of providing complete data to the USSC. The USSC’s subsequent analysis of the current data showed a significant reduction in the number of instances where gathered data did not include information on restitution.
The Judiciary addressed a recommendation from a 2015 report on the sequestration that affected the entire government, including the Judiciary, two years earlier. That recommendation required the AO to develop a methodology to estimate and report cost savings consistently across the Judiciary. The AO created definitions and guidelines relating to tracking and estimating cost containment, which was approved by the Judicial Conference’s Budget Committee in January 2019.
The GAO has closed a recommendation from a 2018 GAO report on financial disclosure and redaction, requiring the AO to ensure that the required annual redaction reports are completed and submitted to Congress in a timely way. The AO implemented steps to improve its process, and the Judicial Conference Committee on Financial Disclosure set a deadline of March 30 of each year for the submission of the annual redaction reports.