Accountability and Resource Management – Annual Report 2022
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.
Financial Disclosure and Conflict Screening
A new free public database of federal judges’ financial disclosure reports and periodic transaction reports was developed and launched by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO) in 2022. Users can register for the service and immediately gain access to electronic versions of federal judges’ reports. The new database is designed to allow members of the public to filter and select the reports they are seeking.
The database and public access functionality of the system was completed before the Nov. 9, 2022, deadline set by the Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act, although it had already been in development stages when Congress passed the legislation. Federal judges have filed annual financial disclosure reports for decades, but there was no central database, and financial disclosure reports were available only on a thumb drive or on paper.
The filing of periodic transaction reports is a new requirement for the Judiciary under the act. Judges must detail within 45 days specified financial transactions that occur on or after Aug. 11, 2022. These include purchases, sales, or exchanges that exceed $1,000 in stocks, bonds, commodities futures, and other forms of securities in which a judge, a judge’s spouse, or a judge’s dependent child has an interest.
The new database includes all judges’ periodic transaction reports and calendar year 2021 financial disclosure reports that are currently available for release. Both types of reports will be continuously added during the course of the year as they are prepared for release.
The Judicial Conference authorized the development of the new disclosure system to increase transparency and help improve public confidence in the Judiciary without endangering filers or their families. The online system will be reviewed and refined over time. As related systems are modernized, the functionality will be enhanced.
The Ethics in Government Act of 1978 requires certain senior officials in all three branches of government to file financial disclosure reports that publicly disclose their personal financial interests.
The Judiciary’s Workplace Conduct Working Group issued its third report (pdf) in March 2022. The report detailed the Judiciary’s ongoing efforts to foster an exemplary workplace and the broad improvements that have been implemented. The changes included the addition of an express prohibition on abusive conduct to the Judiciary's long-standing protections against discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. They also included improvements to processes that make it easier for employees to report and resolve workplace concerns.
One of the most impactful changes described in the report is the Judiciary-wide implementation of a network of workplace conduct specialists who provide confidential guidance and assistance to employees and employing offices. Since 2018, the AO has established a national Office of Judicial Integrity, all the Judiciary’s circuits now have Directors of Workplace Relations who bring broad experience and expertise to their roles, and individual courts and offices have trained and certified Employment Dispute Resolution (EDR) coordinators.
The report emphasized the success of the fundamental improvements that were made to the EDR process, including the addition of expanded informal advice options and less formal procedural mechanisms like the EDR Plan’s assisted resolution option. Through its engagement with Judiciary employees in 2018, the Working Group heard repeatedly that employees wanted a more flexible, less formal mechanism to raise and address workplace conduct concerns.
The Working Group also made nine new recommendations, including a nationwide workplace survey to be disseminated to all Judiciary employees. In September, the Judicial Conference approved a recommendation for the Federal Judicial Center (FJC), the Judiciary’s education and research arm, to conduct periodic national workplace surveys of court and federal public defender employees. The FJC was scheduled to administer the first such survey in early 2023, with plans to send it to all current employees for their voluntary participation. Information will be collected confidentially and anonymously and will give the Working Group a national overview of the Judiciary’s workplace environment, including the nature and extent of any inappropriate conduct and how Judiciary workplace policies and procedures are working.
The remaining eight recommendations are:
- Augment annual EDR–related data collection to include data related to informal advice contacts while ensuring that confidentiality is protected.
- Enhance the formal complaint process by revising the Model EDR Plan to specify that an employee complaint be overseen by a judicial officer from outside the court from which the complaint originated.
- Develop an express policy regarding romantic relationships that exist or develop between employees where there is a supervisory or evaluative relationship.
- Assess incorporation of additional monetary remedies as part of the EDR complaint process.
- Direct the Office of Judicial Integrity, with the assistance of the Directors of Workplace Relations, to issue an annual workplace conduct report.
- Expand outreach to law schools and ongoing communications with employee focus groups and advisory groups to share concerns about workplace needs.
- Strengthen annual EDR training by taking affirmative steps to ensure completion of training for all employees and judges on an annual basis.
- Develop a system for regular review of the Judiciary’s workplace conduct policies to ensure comprehensive implementation across courts and circuits.
Some of the report’s recommended initiatives, such as expanding outreach efforts and the development of an annual workplace conduct report, were underway in 2022. Others were referred to the relevant committees of the Judicial Conference. Since 2018, the Conference has implemented more than 30 recommendations made by the Working Group.
Office of Compliance and Risk
The AO’s Office of Compliance and Risk (OCR) identified enterprise risks through discussions with managers and presented them to several Judicial Conference committees in 2022, including the Committees on Information Technology and Audits and AO Accountability. The presentations covered IT governance, software licensing, supply chain issues, and IT security standardization and modernization. OCR analyzes and addresses risks facing the Judiciary through its Enterprise Risk Management Program, with input from AO managers, the courts, and federal defenders as well as from judges and Judiciary executives through the Risk and Financial Management Advisory Council.
The Enterprise Risk Management Program was launched in 2021 and reflects best practices in the federal government and private sector. The program identifies the top risks facing the AO, including internal control weaknesses identified in external audits or by the Judiciary Data Integrity, Reporting, and Controls Program. It is designed to ensure that both external and internal risks are analyzed, addressed, and monitored by the AO’s leadership team.
Strengthening Financial Reporting and Controls
The AO continued a multi-year effort to strengthen Judiciary Data Integrity, Reporting, and Controls (JDIRC) and to produce consolidated annual statements of all Judiciary financial activity. The Judiciary’s accounting system now produces a Statement of Budgetary Resources, the first of four auditable, consolidated financial statements being developed as part of the JDIRC initiative. The JDIRC incorporates best practices from across the public and private sectors and will ultimately strengthen the Judiciary’s internal control programs and ensure complete and accurate financial data for management decision-making. When the initiative is completed, annual statements will include statements of assurance that internal controls are in place and operating effectively and will improve the Judiciary’s transparency and accountability to Congress and the public.
Web-Based Collection of Receipts
In 2022, the AO conducted a national rollout of its new Automated Collections Register (ACR) to district and bankruptcy courts across the country. The new web-based automated collection and receipting application will replace older systems and allow greater efficiencies, including point-of-sale receipting. Courts can quickly generate receipts from walk-in customers, mail-in collections, and wire transfers. It was designed in partnership with several courts to provide an enhanced user experience. By the end of 2022, more than 80 courts had successfully adopted the ACR. Implementation in the remaining courts was expected in 2023.
Electronic Bankruptcy Noticing
The Judiciary realized an estimated $1.8 million in savings in fiscal year 2022 as a result of the bankruptcy courts’ implementation of a federal rule amendment that took effect on Dec. 1, 2021. It requires high-volume recipients of notices in bankruptcy courts to receive notices electronically rather than on paper. As a result, nearly 66 percent of all bankruptcy notices were sent electronically in 2022. Bankruptcy courts serve millions of court-generated notices each year through the Bankruptcy Noticing Center.
Government Accountability Office Studies
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) regularly examines Judiciary operations. In 2022, it worked on five studies.
- An examination of the Judiciary’s Asset Management Planning (AMP) process, a tool designed to identify the Judiciary’s most urgent space needs, reduce costs, and incorporate industry best practices. The GAO’s January 2022 report contained three recommendations related to evaluating AMP scoring methodology. The Judiciary is evaluating ways to further develop and improve the AMP program.
- An assessment of the AO’s IT acquisitions planning, IT projects and contract management, Electronic Public Access funds management, and IT workforce planning. The GAO recommended the hiring of a chief information officer, improved IT training, strengthening of project management requirements, and risk assessment and controls over electronic public access funds.
- A study of the Judiciary’s workplace conduct policies and procedures. In addition, the GAO is studying the Judicial branch’s oversight of its policies to prevent and respond to workplace harassment, discrimination, and retaliation.
- An examination of the Judiciary’s fraud, waste, and abuse programs. In November 2022, the GAO recommended improved policies and additional oversight of the Judiciary’s fraud, waste, and abuse programs, including creation of an independent office.
- A study of pretrial and probation monitoring, examining the national policy governing how officers respond to electronic monitoring device tampering and noncompliance with pretrial release requirements and whether policies and officer training are adequate.