Federal Bankruptcy Judges:

Weighted Case Filings as a Measure of Judges' Case-Related Workload

GAO-03-789T: Published: May 22, 2003. Publicly Released: May 22, 2003.

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This testimony discusses the results of our review and assessment of bankruptcy court-weighted case filings, the workload measure the Judicial Conference first considers in assessing the need for additional bankruptcy judgeships. Weighted filings are a statistical measure of the estimated judge time that specific types of bankruptcy cases are expected to take. Congress asked us to assess whether weighted case filings are a reasonable means of measuring bankruptcy judges' case-related workload and to assess the methodology of any proposal to update the current case weights.

This statement today focuses on the weighted case filings as a measure of case-related bankruptcy judge workload. This testimony is based on the results of our review of documentation provided by the Federal Judicial Center (FJC) and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AOUSC) and interviews with officials in each organization. The time demands on bankruptcy judges are largely a function of the number and complexity of the cases on their dockets. Not all cases necessarily take the same amount of judge time. Some types of cases may take more judge time than others. In assessing the need for new bankruptcy judgeships, the Judicial Conference relies on the weighted case filings to be a reasonably accurate measure of case-related bankruptcy judge workload. Whether weighted case filings are a reasonably accurate workload measure rests in turn on the soundness of the methodology used to develop the case weights. On the basis of the documentation provided for our review and discussions with FJC and AOUSC officials, we concluded that weighted case filings, as approved by the Judicial Conference in 1991 and amended in 1996, are likely to be a reasonably accurate means of measuring the case-related workload of bankruptcy judges. The original case weights are now about 12 years old and were based on time data that are now about 15 years old. Changes in the intervening years in such factors as case characteristics and case management practices may have affected whether the case weights continue to be a reasonably accurate measure of case-related judge workload. Some of these changes may have increased the time demands on bankruptcy judges and others reduced time demands. To the extent that the case weights may now understate or overstate time demands on bankruptcy judges, the weights could potentially result in the Judicial Conference understating or overstating the need for new bankruptcy judgeships. The Judicial Conference's Committee on the Administration of the Bankruptcy System has approved a revision of the current weights whose methodological design is reasonable. The accuracy of the case weights is also dependent upon accurately assigning each case filed in each bankruptcy court to the appropriate case weight category. AOUSC said that its staff took a number of steps to ensure that individual cases were assigned to the appropriate case weight category. We did not evaluate how effective these measures may be in ensuring data accuracy.

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