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Annual Report 2018

AO Director James C. Duff

AO Director James C. Duff

Director's Message

Over the past year, the federal Judiciary aggressively studied and introduced measures to improve workplace conduct, achieved one of our top cost-saving goals, and maintained our commitment to excellence in service to the public. This, and more, occurred while we planned for the government shutdown and appropriations lapse that consumed an inordinate amount of court and Administrative Office (AO) time and resources during the last quarter of the year. The Judiciary’s unwavering ability to adhere to its core mission of dispensing justice in a fair and orderly manner, without regard to the hurdles we faced, motivated and distinguished our branch of government. Our progress, innovation, and improvement this past year in the face of several challenges can be a source of pride for all of our employees and a source of confidence and trust in the Judiciary for the public we serve.

At the outset of 2018, at the request of Chief Justice Roberts, I established the Federal Judiciary Workplace Conduct Working Group. The Working Group examined workplace practices throughout the public and private sectors and sought input from a variety of knowledgeable people and sources inside and outside the court system to frame our review of workplace conduct. Less than six months after the creation of our Working Group, we submitted a comprehensive report and recommendations to the Judicial Conference. I am pleased to report that courts throughout the country are actively implementing the report’s recommendations, which are directed at improving civility and accountability in the Judiciary. Two Judicial Conference committees conducted a public hearing to receive input into proposed revisions to the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges and the Judicial Conduct and Disability Rules. Judicial Conference action on their recommendations is imminent. In his 2018 Year-End Report on the federal Judiciary, the Chief Justice said, “While I am pleased that our Branch has mobilized to ensure that the Judiciary is the exemplary workplace that we all want, I also realize that the job is not yet done.” Our Working Group will remain intact to assist with continued review and implementation.

As our efforts on workplace conduct and civility moved forward, other mission-critical work, particularly in the areas of cost containment and bolstering cybersecurity defenses, reached milestones during the year. The Judiciary continually looks for ways to cut costs and increase efficiency throughout the court system to serve the public better and to spend taxpayer funds wisely. One major effort in recent years has been our goal of reducing our building space by 3 percent nationally as a way of reducing rent and other operational costs related to building maintenance. In 2018, we not only hit our mark, we exceeded it. We reduced the Judiciary’s space footprint by more than 1.1 million square feet, cutting annual rent payments by approximately $36 million. That has resulted in $107 million in savings since the initiative began in 2013.

Cybersecurity has been another top priority for the federal court system for the past few years, and I am pleased to report that mandatory security assessments by independent experts were either completed, underway, or scheduled for all federal courts in 2018. The courts also completed an initial round of self-assessments, gathering consistent, comparable data that will enable informed decision-making. The Judiciary’s national IT systems undergo regular security assessments, including the Case Management/Electronic Case Files system used Judiciary-wide to store and manage court case files. We know that cyber threats will continue to intensify. In response, we are evaluating, investing in, and evolving our defenses.

The administration of public defense in the federal courts is a vital Constitutional mission. In 2018, the Judicial Conference approved more than half of the interim recommendations submitted by the Ad Hoc Committee to Review the Criminal Justice Act. These include adoption of a uniform standard for judicial review of vouchers submitted by panel attorneys and additional funding, staffing, and training for various defender programs and activities.

During 2018, we experienced a change in leadership at our sister agency, the Federal Judicial Center (FJC), as Judge Jeremy Fogel’s tenure as director expired. John S. Cooke, the longtime deputy director, took over the helm as director, and Clara Altman became the deputy director. I know we will continue the collegial and productive AO-FJC partnership that has served our branch well in recent years.

None of our accomplishments this year would have been possible without the skilled and dedicated people who work for the court system. Our employees bring a deep sense of mission to their jobs. When courts in Florida and the Carolinas were struck by Category 4 hurricanes in the fall and Typhoon Yutu hit the Northern Mariana Islands, court employees went to extraordinary lengths to maintain the delivery of justice, while coping with personal hardships and damaged and uninhabitable court space. There is no better example of the dedication and resilience of our employees.

At the AO, we work to nurture and support such dedication with opportunities for employees to expand their skills and increase their knowledge, ultimately to serve the courts more effectively. Next year will mark the 10th anniversary of the Court/AO Exchange Program, an initiative I launched in 2009 to provide court and AO employees increased opportunities to work together on specific projects. Each year, two or three court staff spend up to a year participating in the Director’s Leadership Program at the AO, where they work on national-level projects. The 2018 participants worked on racial fairness, implicit bias, and related topics; cost-containing energy and resource conservation measures; and criminal case discovery in the electronic age. Twice a year, courts have welcomed a small group of AO staff to spend a week at their courts observing virtually all aspects of their work. The AO staff return better informed and better equipped to meet future court needs.

Finally, I would like to recognize the exceptional work so many have put in relating to the partial government shutdown that began in December of 2018. The time and resources expended on these efforts at a time when each one of us had other pressing duties to perform was extraordinary. It enabled us to keep the courts running and all 30,000 employees, defenders, and judges fully paid for six weeks. It is another testament to our employees’ commitment to public service and to each other.

In a year of change and challenge, the Judiciary achieved many of its goals and made great progress on others. At the AO, we have adopted a theme of being coordinated, collegial, and connected in our work within the AO and with the courts. I believe this strategy, as well as the dedication of our employees nationwide, has helped preserve the independence of the courts through gaining the trust of the public we serve.

James C. Duff
Director, Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts