National Fine Center:

Progress Made but Challenges Remain for Criminal Debt System

AIMD-95-76: Published: May 25, 1995. Publicly Released: Jun 26, 1995.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the National Fine Center (NFC), focusing on the: (1) Administrative Office of the United States Courts' (AOUSC) efforts to establish NFC and centralize criminal debt accounting and reporting within NFC; and (2) additional actions AOUSC needs to take to complete implementation of the NFC automated accounting system.

GAO found that AOUSC has: (1) established a process for centralizing and maintaining federal criminal debt accounts; (2) developed a formal training program for judicial district staff; (3) selected an off-the-shelf accounting system and inexpensive interim software until the selected system becomes operational; (4) begun processing new criminal debt information for 25 small judicial districts; and (5) begun converting criminal debt information from the interim system to the off-the-shelf system. In addition, GAO found that: (1) AOUSC is slightly ahead of schedule in establishing NFC and centralizing federal criminal debt, but much planning and implementation effort remains; (2) many enhancements to the selected accounting system will be required to automate certain manual processes before NFC can begin receiving new criminal debt information from larger judicial districts; (3) AOUSC and the Department of Justice (DOJ) still must ensure the reliability of the existing criminal debt accounting data before entering the information into the NFC system; and (4) although AOUSC plans to further enhance the system to increase user access to NFC information within the next 5 years, it must first identify the specific enhancements required and determine how to accomplish them.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Director, AOUSC, should work with DOJ to finalize a reconciliation strategy to include time frames and resources for reconciling existing criminal debt accounts at judicial districts and entering the reconciled information into the NFC system.

    Agency Affected: Administrative Office of the United States Courts

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Because of congressional and DOJ concerns about the accomplishments and directions of NFC, Director of AOUSC had an independent contractor review NFC. In May 1996, the contractor issued its report and concluded that a national approach was not "feasible, economical, or efficient" and did not meet the needs of the people who manage and collect criminal debt. After consultation with congressional staff, Department of Justice officials and other stakeholders, AOUSC decided to transfer criminal debt processing and accounting back to the judicial districts and to initiate NFC shutdown procedures. As a result, this recommendation is no longer applicable.

    Recommendation: The Director, AOUSC, should fully define a strategy for addressing additional actions needed to enable the NFC system to: (1) provide a repository for national criminal debt statistical information; (2) produce reports to accommodate management information needs; (3) facilitate communication between NFC and its users; and (4) account for bail bond and collateral forfeiture actions.

    Agency Affected: Administrative Office of the United States Courts

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: NFC is scheduled to cease operations in December 1996. As result, this recommendation is no longer applicable.

    Recommendation: The Director, AOUSC, and the Director of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys should work together to develop and implement a methodology for determining the collectibility of all criminal debt.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Executive Office for United States Attorneys

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: EOUSA has expanded its suspense data field coding to include categories that identify when the criminal debtor has no ability to pay or has the ability to pay only a nominal amount. The coding also recognizes when the debtor is in bankruptcy and the debt collection cannot be enforced. Because of these codes, DOJ had reported that about 68 percent of the criminal debt balance is unlikely to be collected. Due to DOJ's enhanced ability to determine the collectibility of criminal debt, it should be better able to direct resources to those debts which possess the best likelihood of collection and to more accurately report on the composition of the outstanding criminal debt balance.

    Recommendation: The Director, AOUSC, and the Director of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys should work together to develop and implement a methodology for determining the collectibility of all criminal debt.

    Agency Affected: Administrative Office of the United States Courts

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: NFC is scheduled to cease operations in December 1996. As result, this recommendation is no longer applicable.

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