Accountability and Resource Management – Annual Report 2020
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.
Strategic Plan 2020
At its September meeting, the Judicial Conference (the Conference) approved an updated Strategic Plan for the Federal Judiciary. The revised plan takes into account current trends and issues affecting the Judiciary and discusses future opportunities for improving the fair and impartial delivery of justice.
The plan retains the mission, core values, and scope of versions adopted in 2010 and 2015 while adding a new core value titled “Diversity and Respect.” Several new strategies relate to workplace conduct, workforce diversity, transparency and accountability, civics education, health and wellness, and criminal defense.
Overall, the updated plan assists Conference committees in tackling strategic priorities in a manner consistent with the Judiciary’s mission and core values. It was drafted over 18 months by a group that included a member of the Conference’s Executive Committee, Conference committee chairs, at-large judges, and Judiciary executives. Staffing and support were provided by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO).
The Judiciary’s strategic plan identifies seven fundamental goals: the fair and impartial delivery of justice; public trust and confidence in, and understanding of, the federal courts; effective and efficient management of resources; a diverse workforce and an exemplary workplace; harnessing technology’s potential; access to justice and the judicial process; and maintaining relationships with the other branches of government.
Office of Compliance and Risk
The Office of Compliance and Risk (OCR) was created in June 2020 to enhance the AO’s ability to respond quickly and efficiently to recommendations from audits, internal control reviews, and other reviews and studies. The new office is developing a coordinated approach for analyzing and addressing enterprise-level risks across the AO. It also is enabling members of the AO’s Executive and Management Group to flag and monitor more closely any identified internal control weaknesses. Placing the OCR within the executive offices is designed to enhance accountability and reassure the public and Congress that the Judiciary’s oversight mechanisms are operating effectively.
Financial Reporting and Controls
In 2020, the AO made progress in a multi-year effort to modernize the Judiciary’s decentralized financial reporting model. By fiscal year 2025, the Judiciary will begin producing annual consolidated statements that reflect financial activity across all Judiciary organizations, supported by statements of assurance that internal controls are in place and operating effectively. The resulting statements also will simplify the audit process and enhance the Third Branch’s transparency and accountability to Congress and the public, demonstrating its commitment to sound stewardship and ethical and effective use of public funds.
This project, which launched in 2019, entered a critical phase in 2020, with the start of a comprehensive analysis of financial transactions and business processes across the Judiciary. The analysis covers AO, court, and federal public defender transactions, and is guided by stakeholder groups representing each of these groups.
In fiscal year 2020, the AO continued to conduct annual audits to assess the accuracy of the Judiciary’s financial statements and mitigate the risk of financial misstatement, fraud, waste, or abuse. The AO completed 337 audit reports of the Judiciary’s funds, court units, federal defender organizations, and for the six districts served by the bankruptcy administrator program, trustees and debtors.
Civil and Criminal Case Debt Accounting
A new Civil and Criminal Accounting Module was added to the Judiciary Integrated Financial Management System (JIFMS), the courts’ financial and procurement management system, which allows the district courts to have access to financial accounting system features that better enable them to track the status of civil and criminal debt. The new module helps courts track debt owed the Judiciary by establishing civil and criminal accounts, recording the receipt of funds, and apportioning and disbursing funds to a list of payees. To ensure a smooth transition, each court was supported by an AO implementation team. After the COVID-19 pandemic struck the United States in early 2020, remote support was provided.
JIFMS enables staff for the AO, the courts, and federal defenders to use a single application to record and maintain the Judiciary’s financial and procurement information and to report on that data. JIFMS also reduces financial risk to the Judiciary by strengthening internal controls, enhancing security, and standardizing Judiciary-wide business processes and procedures.
The Office of Judicial Integrity was created in 2019 within the AO to ensure that current and former Judiciary employees have a source for confidential counseling and assistance in addressing wrongful workplace conduct such as sexual harassment and other forms of discriminatory harassment, abusive conduct, discrimination, and retaliation. Also that year, the Judicial Conference approved a new model employment dispute resolution (EDR) plan that simplified and expanded 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.
As of the end of 2020, all the circuit courts and about three-quarters of district and bankruptcy courts had EDR plans in place based on the revised Model EDR Plan. Also in 2020, the Office of Judicial Integrity developed an online training and certification course for employment dispute resolution coordinators.
By year’s end, most of the circuits had hired a director of workplace relations to oversee workplace conduct issues within the circuit. The directors provide confidential guidance and assistance to employees within the circuit, assist in resolving workplace issues (including those involving both mediation and workplace investigations), and provide training on identifying and reporting workplace misconduct.
In March 2020, the Conference approved an amended code of conduct for employees who work in federal public defender offices that, among other things, explicitly states that employees should not engage in sexual or other forms of harassment or retaliation for reporting misconduct. These changes mirror the improvements the Conference made to the codes of conduct for judges and court employees in 2019.
Together with other workplace conduct reforms that have been enacted, the Judiciary has taken action on all of the Federal Judiciary Workplace Conduct Working Group’s more than 30 recommendations contained in its June 2018 report. The working group was created at the request of Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., and continues to monitor and assess workplace conduct matters throughout the Judiciary.
“I am pleased with the work we have accomplished to date,” AO Director James C. Duff told a House appropriations subcommittee in February 2020. “However, we recognize that addressing workplace misconduct is an ongoing effort and we remain committed to refining our procedures to achieve a safe and respectful work environment for all Judiciary employees.”
Government Accountability Office Studies
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) regularly conducts studies related to Judiciary operations. At the close of 2020, there were six ongoing GAO studies that involved the Judiciary: Bureau of Prisons Emergency Response and Disasters; Fentanyl-Related Substances and Federal Investigations and Prosecutions; Federal Protective Service (FPS) Fees and Services; Online Sex Trafficking; Asset Management Planning; and Law Enforcement Use of Face Recognition Technology.
In 2020, the GAO closed two studies, both without recommendations for the Judiciary: Bankruptcy of Financial Companies (Dodd-Frank Act) and Social Security Disability Appeals Backlogs. The GAO also closed outstanding recommendations from two earlier GAO studies: Federal Judiciary Sequestration and U.S. Courts of Appeal Space Utilization. The most significant were recommendations resulting from the 2014 study Federal Judiciary Sequestration. Improvements adopted by the Judiciary resulted in better tracking, estimating, and reporting of cost savings resulting from major cost containment initiatives undertaken by the Judiciary.