D.C. Courts:

Planning and Budgeting Difficulties During Fiscal Year 1998

AIMD/OGC-99-226: Published: Sep 16, 1999. Publicly Released: Sep 16, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the planning and budgeting difficulties faced by District of Columbia (DC) Courts during fiscal year (FY) 1998.

GAO noted that: (1) DC Courts incurred obligations of $115.4 million, $119 million, and $125.6 million in fiscal years 1996, 1997, and 1998, respectively; (2) FY 1998 obligations reflect a different scope of activities than prior year obligations, primarily because of changes necessitated by the Revitalization Act of 1997; (3) these changes include the transfer of a DC Courts function to another entity and increased costs of employee benefits during FY 1998; (4) DC Courts also gave its nonjudicial employees a 7-percent pay raise and assumed responsibility for judges' pension costs as part of its FY 1998 appropriation for court operations; (5) DC Courts did not prepare and execute a budget based on amounts appropriated for fiscal year 1998; (6) records showed that throughout the year, DC Courts was aware that its spending was on pace to exceed available resources; (7) rather than managing within its available funds, DC Courts incurred obligations in anticipation of receiving additional resources from Congress and others to cover the difference; (8) faced with an impending shortfall in operating funds, DC Courts officials deferred payments totalling $5.8 million owed to court-appointed attorneys and expert service providers during the last 3 months of FY 1998; (9) Congress transferred $1.7 million in FY 1998 funds to DC Courts that was used for deferred court-appointed attorney payments and authorized DC Courts to use the FY 1999 appropriation to fund the remaining deferred amount of $4.1 million; (10) as of May 25, 1999, GAO found that DC Courts FY 1998 obligations exceeded available resources by $4.6 million, in violation of the Anti-Deficiency Act; (11) this funding shortfall reflected the $4.1 million in deferred payments to court-appointed attorneys that should have been recorded as FY 1998 obligations and GAO's assessment of deobligations for FY 1998 submitted by DC Courts; (12) DC Courts treated $773,000 in interest--earned primarily on the bank balances from quarterly apportionments of its FY 1998 appropriation--as an available budgetary resource for court operations without having legislative authority to do so; (13) DC Courts processed vouchers for court-appointed attorneys and expert-service providers in accordance with established policies and procedures; (14) however, its policies did not: (a) include timeframes for processing the vouchers and making payments; or (b) require that judges document decisions to reduce claimed voucher amounts; and (15) DC Courts did not have procedures for retaining data on vouchers reported as lost or missing.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: P.L. 106-113 established a separate federal payment for "Defender Services in the DC Courts."

    Matter: If Congress wishes to ensure that appropriated funds intended for payment of court-appointed attorneys are not used for other purposes, Congress should consider making a separate appropriation to DC Courts for payments to court-appointed attorneys.

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The D.C. Fiscal Year 2000 Appropriation Act (P.L. 106-113) requires all federal funds to remain with the U.S. Treasury until needed for authorized DC Court activities and eliminates the need for an interest-bearing account to handle the federal payment to DC Courts.

    Matter: If Congress continues to require the U.S. Treasury to pay quarterly apportionments to DC Courts, Congress should consider authorizing DC Courts to retain the interest earned and requiring DC Courts to include estimated interest in its annual budget request. This would alleviate the need for DC Courts and U.S. Treasury to process interest repayments to U.S. Treasury.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to the Courts Chief Accountant, Dan Friend, the Courts newly implemented voucher tracking system, logs vouchers in upon receipt, tracks approvals of the voucher and monitors payment of the vouchers by GSA.

    Recommendation: The Joint Committee on Judicial Administration should establish procedures that require all vouchers to be logged and tracked immediately upon receipt.

    Agency Affected: District of Columbia: Joint Committee on Judicial Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The D.C. Fiscal Year 1999 Appropriation Act (P.L. 105-277) subjected DC Courts to the requirements of the federal Prompt Payment Act in processing vouchers for Defender Services. Chief Judge Hamilton issued an administrative order implementing the provisions of the Prompt Payment Act.

    Recommendation: The Joint Committee on Judicial Administration should issue guidance providing that interest is to be paid when vouchers containing or accompanied by all required substantiating documentation are not paid by the required payment date.

    Agency Affected: District of Columbia: Joint Committee on Judicial Administration

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: P.L. 101-113 authorized DC Courts to spend up to $1.2 million of interest earned in fiscal year 1999 on defender services vouchers.

    Recommendation: The Joint Committee on Judicial Administration should transfer to the U.S. Treasury all interest earned on appropriated funds or seek legislative relief from repaying the interest that was improperly retained.

    Agency Affected: District of Columbia: Joint Committee on Judicial Administration

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to the Courts Chief Accountant, Dana Friend, Judge Wagner has complied with all reporting provisions required under the Anti-Deficiency Act for the Courts FY1998 appropriation.

    Recommendation: The Joint Committee on Judicial Administration should perform all necessary investigation and reporting under the Anti-Deficiency Act related to DC Courts' overobligation of its FY 1998 appropriation.

    Agency Affected: District of Columbia: Joint Committee on Judicial Administration

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: P.L. 106-113 ratified any payments made from the Crime Victims Fund on after April 9, 1997 to the extent the amounts were authorized under the Crime Victims Compensation Act of 1996, as amended.

    Recommendation: The Joint Committee on Judicial Administration should seek legislation authorizing DC Courts to use the Crime Victims Fund to pay eligible claims under the Crime Victims Compensation Program.

    Agency Affected: District of Columbia: Joint Committee on Judicial Administration

 

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