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Initiatives - Annual Report 2014

The need to allocate and manage limited resources more efficiently and effectively has generated initiatives in the area of staffing, technology, management, and service.

Updating Work Measurement Staffing Formulas

This is a Judiciary cost-containment initiative.

The Judiciary continues its efforts to apply a rigorous work measurement process to the development of equitable staffing formulas. In September 2014, the Judicial Conference approved a group of updated staffing formulas for bankruptcy administrators, bankruptcy appellate panel clerks, circuit executives, circuit librarians, circuit mediators, courts of appeals clerks, and staff attorneys. The recommended formulas resulted from analysis of work data collected from 100 percent of the subject offices. More than 96 percent of the employees contributed several weeks of data to help ensure a comprehensive decision set for analysis and option development.

Development of similar staffing formulas, using even more detailed data collection techniques, will be completed for federal defender offices and probation and pretrial services offices. These two studies will address more than 13,000 staffing requirements defined by current staffing allocation processes. The Judicial Conference Committee on Judicial Resources expects to receive formula options for these functions in June 2015.

To prepare for the implementation of new staffing formulas, the AO distributed staffing projection tools for use by each of these offices to calculate anticipated staffing resources for FY 2015.

Increasing the eJuror Online Response Rate

This is a Judiciary cost-containment initiative.

In six districts, a prospective juror now receives a letter from the court directing them to the court’s website to complete the juror qualification questionnaire using eJuror, instead of filling out a paper questionnaire. Any juror who does not complete the questionnaire online within a specified time frame after the initial mailing is promptly mailed a paper questionnaire. More districts are expected to adopt this approach in the coming year.

When the District of New Hampshire instituted the practice, the court reported that approximately 60 to 80 percent of all jurors responded to the court’s eJuror mailing by completing the questionnaire online. By contrast, when courts mail the paper questionnaires with the option of completing the questionnaire online, the national average eJuror “hit rate” is just 25 to 30 percent.

Increased eJuror use means courts save postage, as well as staff time that would have been spent processing paper questionnaires. Most notably, because eJuror requires every question to be answered prior to submission, courts receive only fully completed questionnaires, providing a more accurate snapshot of the diversity of its jury wheel.

The national eJuror Program gives potential jurors the option of responding to their jury qualification questionnaire or summons online. Currently, 72 districts use eJurors.

Introducing an Orientation Manual for Federal Court Interpreters

The Federal Court Interpreter Orientation Manual and Glossary (pdf), published in FY 2014, provides an overview of the federal court interpreting program for new and experienced court interpreters. The manual is an introduction to the federal court system, interpreting best practices and reference materials. It also demonstrates the importance of court interpreters in the administration of justice and serves as a court interpreting reference for clerk’s office staff.

Court Interpreting Events

In fiscal year 2014, district courts used interpreters in 287,579 court events, compared to 330,607 events reported in FY 2013. Overall, 116 different languages were used in court events during 2014. Spanish remains the most used language for interpreters in the courts, accounting for 96.4 percent of all reported events in FY 2014. The top 10 languages that required interpreting in the federal courts in FY 2014 were Spanish (277,343); Mandarin (1,489); Russian (991); Portuguese (669); Korean (614); Arabic (604); Punjabi (413); Vietnamese (405); Cantonese (387); and Haitian Creole (384).

Expanding the Telephone Interpreting Program

This is a Judiciary cost-containment initiative.

The Telephone Interpreting Program (TIP) is a resource available to the courts to provide remote interpretation in short court proceedings where certified or otherwise qualified interpreters are not locally available. In FY 2014, 52 districts in 101 locations received telephone interpreting services. TIP is cost-effective because it reduces the need for an interpreter to travel to distant court locations and allows an interpreter to serve multiple proceedings and locations in the same day. In FY 2014, the total estimated savings from telephone interpreting was more than $1.7 million.

Ensuring Access, Reducing Library Costs

This is a Judiciary cost-containment initiative.

In March 2014, at the request of the Judicial Conference, each circuit judicial council, in consultation with its circuit librarians, library committees, and relevant judges, reviewed its continuing need for each library. The goal was to reduce library costs where possible, while ensuring access to necessary legal research resources.

Each circuit identified space that could be reduced, returned, or repurposed. Seven satellite libraries, library spaces, and/or large shared library collections were earmarked for closure. Four are now closed and a fifth is scheduled to close in 2015. Additional possible future closures have been identified, and reductions proposed in more than 40 libraries. At the same time, the circuit judicial councils identified a strong need to keep library professionals on staff to assist judges, law clerks, and other court staff in meeting their mission-critical functions and to strike the correct balance between supporting the courts’ research needs and meeting the challenges of a constricted budget.

Revising Records Retention Policies

This is a Judiciary cost-containment initiative.

As part of the Judiciary’s effort to update its records retention policies, a revised retention schedule for district court criminal case records was approved in FY 2014 by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). This important change recognizes the historic long-term value of cases involving the death penalty and such crimes as treason, national security, embezzlement, or bribery by public officials. The revised schedule also takes into account a sentence’s length and extends the retention period for post-1969 non-trial criminal cases with open sentences, which, since the early 1980s, had been assigned a temporary records retention period of 20 years. In addition, a new records retention policy addresses federal records within federal public defender organizations.

Long-term storage of paper files is costly. Record schedules for civil, bankruptcy, and appellate files already have been reappraised. Since the project began in 2010, it has saved the Judiciary $1.29 million in reduced storage fees. Without the reappraisal program, storage costs would have reached $8.2 million by 2014.

Expanding the National Phone System

This is a Judiciary cost-containment initiative.

As of July 2014, nearly 30,000 phones (including the AO's) have been added to the national phone system, which now handles an average of approximately 990,000 inbound and 1.2 million outbound calls per month. As a result, telephone service and equipment expenditures by local courts have significantly decreased since initial deployment, a trend that is expected to continue.

Consolidating Judiciary Email Servers

This is a Judiciary cost-containment initiative.

The centralization of all the Judiciary’s primary email servers was completed in March 2014. This initiative resulted in avoidance of certain cyclical hardware replacement and implementation costs, and will permanently relieve local courts of hardware maintenance responsibilities.

Migrating Appeals Data to NewSTATS

The New Streamline Timely Access to Statistics (NewSTATS) project is a multi-year effort to replace the Judiciary’s legacy system for collecting, processing, and reporting court caseload statistics. In 2014, appellate data were added to NewSTATS, making it the system of record for all appellate data, MJSTAR (Magistrate Judge Statistics Through Automated Records) data, Civil Justice Reform Act (CJRA) data, district court criminal and civil case data, and bankruptcy case and adversary proceeding data. The migration of district court trial statistics to NewSTATS is underway. The remaining data sets—bankruptcy appellate program, bankruptcy court trials, and grand and petit jury—are all scheduled for migration to NewSTATS in FY 2015. A parallel effort has been initiated to expand the Judiciary’s Enterprise Data Warehouse (EDW) framework to include NewSTATS. EDW is a robust business intelligence platform that will be used to integrate information from across the Judiciary’s national financial transaction and case processing systems.

Recruiting for Diversity

The Diversity Recruiting and Outreach Program involves 33 districts encompassing all circuits, and has reached more than 8,000 diverse student candidates through 88 career fairs and legal recruiting events. This program supports a goal in the Strategic Plan for the Federal Judiciary to strengthen workforce diversity through expansion of diversity program recruitment, education, and training. The program develops relationships with colleges, universities, and external organizations, including Just the Beginning – A Pipeline Organization, Congressional Caucuses (Black, Asian, and Hispanic), Council on Legal Education Opportunity, Minority Corporate Counsel Association, National Association for Legal Career Professionals, and the American Bar Association. Judges have strongly supported this effort through the Summer Judicial Internship Program, a partnership between JTB-APO and the Judicial Conference Committee on Judicial Resources, which placed 88 minority law students with 67 federal judges this summer.

OSCAR Changes

With the elimination of the Federal Law Clerk Hiring Plan, the AO implemented several key changes to the Online System for Clerkship Application and Review (OSCAR), the Judiciary’s centralized system for law clerk and staff attorney recruitment. These changes support the new list of Federal Law Clerk Hiring Best Practices to expand applicant access and promote greater transparency in the law clerk hiring process.

Rising second-year law school students gained read-only access to OSCAR on June 1 to research positions and full system access on August 1 to submit on-line applications. The major policy change allows applicants to update their documents on finalized applications to report new grades, class rank updates, awards, recommendations, and other information. In addition, judges now identify their preferred interview methods (telephone or video conference, no preference, etc.) and the minimum number of semesters of law school grades they require for a law clerk application.

David Sime

David Sime

Involving Court Staff in National Initiatives

2014 Director’s Leadership Program

David Sime, clerk of court for the District of Utah Bankruptcy Court, and Luke Adams, a senior programmer analyst in the Eastern District of Virginia Bankruptcy Court, participated in the 2014 Director’s Leadership Program. The program brings highly qualified senior and mid-level court and federal public defender organization staff to the AO for up to one year to perform critical work on national initiatives and high-priority projects.

Sime will bring a court perspective to a high-profile, national project focusing on the identification and sponsorship of innovative data analysis capabilities for the courts.

Luke Adams

Luke Adams

Adams will support development and implementation of a Judiciary Enterprise Architecture (EA). The EA business model will help establish common information technology patterns for stakeholders across the Judiciary and a strategy to achieve measurable outcomes. The Judiciary EA is expected to leverage business and technical expertise, reduce costs by promoting reuse, and reduce data duplication.

Court/AO Exchange Programs

In fiscal year 2014, 64 court, defender organization, and AO staff participated in the Temporary Duty (TDY) and Extended Collaborative Assignments Program, working on projects outside their regular work responsibilities. TDY participants worked on-site or remotely with 11 AO offices, and represented chambers and non-chambers staff in appellate, district, and bankruptcy court operations, probation and pretrial services offices, and federal defender and community organizations. TDY program assignments range from six months to one year with options to extend the assignment in some cases. In 2014, some of the TDY assignments included work on NextGen CM/ECF, collaboration with the FBI on computer forensics in the supervision of defendants and offenders, space planning, privacy policies, and the representation at a Prisoner Transfer Hearing of an American citizen incarcerated abroad.

Knowledge Seminars

Knowledge Seminars are held throughout the year for staff to learn about key Judiciary programs. The seminars involve a panel of subject-matter experts presenting the program’s core functions, the AO’s role in supporting the program, and the perspective from the courts and defender organizations. In fiscal year 2014, Knowledge Seminars took a look at national jurisdiction courts, went behind the scenes of a criminal case, and presented a day in the life of a federal public defender and Criminal Justice Act panel attorney.

Planning for Natural and Man-Made Disasters

The federal Judiciary plans and prepares so that the business of the courts may continue in the face of natural or man-made disasters. In 2014, a webcast for court staff on emergency preparedness exercise design offered a step-by-step presentation on how to create tabletop exercises. Emergency planning experts from the Western District of Washington, the Central District of California Bankruptcy Court, and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals shared their expertise.

Another Judiciary-wide webcast offered step-by-step instructions on best practices for utilizing the Judiciary’s Emergency Notification System (ENS), which provides alerts during a major crisis or emergency. The District of New Jersey shared its firsthand experience using ENS during Hurricane Sandy.

Streamlining the AO

The AO has completed its internal restructuring to make programs and services more effective while reducing operating costs. Announced in June 2013, the reorganization was designed to enhance service to the courts, eliminate redundancies, and simplify the agency’s structure. For instance, by co-locating development of all court program applications in a single office and all administrative systems in another, overall costs will be reduced and a more consistent architecture for Judiciary applications will be created. Similarly, consolidating support for all judge programs in one office and support for all court programs in another has created administrative, communication, and service efficiencies.