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Assuring Accountability - Annual Report 2014

The Judiciary strives to assure high standards of conduct and integrity for judges and staff. Guidance and a number of mechanisms are in place to achieve that goal. In addition, the AO serves as the Judiciary’s liaison with the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which periodically reviews Judiciary programs and operations.

Government Accountability Office Studies Conducted

In FY 2014, the GAO conducted 10 congressionally requested studies involving the Judiciary, of which one was completed and one suspended. The GAO issued a report about the Fair Labor Standards Act. The Judiciary was not the focus of this study, so the report’s recommendations were not directed to the Judiciary. The GAO suspended a study on appellate and district judicial workload measures until spring 2015; the Judicial Conference may consider the implementation of new case weights by that time.

A GAO study is underway on the impact of sequestration and other budget cuts on the Judiciary, pertaining to the Budget Control Act of 2011. Under review are actions the Judiciary has taken in the past five fiscal years to implement cost savings and efficiencies, the effects of decreasing federal resources on the Judiciary’s operations, performance and services to the public, and the extent to which the Judiciary has mechanisms in place to identify future cost savings and efficiencies. (Note: As of December 2014, this GAO study was expanded to cover 10 years of the Judiciary's cost-containment efforts.)

Other GAO studies still in progress cover: the bankruptcy of large financial companies as required by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010; American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding for courthouse construction and renovation projects; federal building entry security screening; the cost of enhancing physical security in federal facilities since September 11, 2001; the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program; changes to state voting laws; and the Department of Justice's direct spending authorities and associated collections, including fines and restitution.

The AO responds to GAO requests for information and also reviews and comments on GAO draft reports in coordination with Conference committees and the courts, as appropriate.

Audits and Reviews Completed

Court audits are conducted on a four-year cycle for most courts, and on a 30-month cycle for larger courts. In fiscal year 2014, the AO issued final reports for 53 cyclical financial audits of the courts.

Fifty-nine other financial audits were completed, including audits of Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy trustees and Criminal Justice Act defender grantees, and audits in response to a change of clerk or other special request.

Pursuant to the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005, debtor audits are performed to determine the accuracy and completeness of the information contained in the petitions, schedules, and statements filed by a sample of individual Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 debtors. During fiscal year 2014, 42 debtor audits were conducted.

Each year, on-site management assistance and program reviews of various kinds are conducted in court units and federal defender organizations. Reviews may cover budget management, jury administration, court reporting, program operations and management, human resources management, property management, procurement, succession planning, and continuity of operations plans and disaster preparedness. Review procedures generally include observations of office operations, interviews with key staff, and review of records and files. During fiscal year 2014, on-site management reviews were conducted for five district courts, 10 federal defender organizations, and 30 probation/pretrial services offices.

AO Stewardship Program Launched

Web-based stewardship training is now available for AO management and senior staff. The mandatory training provides concise, comprehensive guidance and reference tools for the oversight of AO administrative functions, such as budget, human resources, procurement, and information technology. Similar web-based training already is available to court unit executives and staff.

Certifying Officer eLearning Course Introduced

The online Certifying Officer Accountability eLearning course was introduced in 2014. Piloted with court unit executives and adjusted based on feedback, this course takes participants through payment packages and requires court unit executives and financial management staff to decide whether or not they would certify the packages for payment.

All new court unit executives and federal public defenders with certifying officer duties, as well as approving officers and financial management professionals, are strongly encouraged to complete the training.

Internal Controls Self-Assessment Tool Offered

A tool to help court units and federal defender organizations self-evaluate their internal controls was made available in December 2013. The Self-Assessment Tool provides a standardized template that can be used to test compliance with internal control requirements and facilitate a self-audit. The AO has established a Self-Assessment Tool Help desk to assist court users in completing their annual internal control reviews.

The Self-Assessment Tool also helps a court or defender organization identify documentation needed for self-assessments, including reports from the Judiciary’s Internal Control Evaluation (ICE) System. The tool then guides court and defender organization staff through the process of identifying, assessing, and addressing internal control weaknesses.

Court unit executives and federal public defenders must ensure at least once a year that a self-assessment is conducted to review internal controls and evaluate compliance of actual practices with those procedures. This tool improves the quality and efficiency of such reviews.