Government Operations:

Tax Court Can Reduce Growing Case Backlog and Expenses Through Administrative Improvements

GGD-84-25: Published: May 14, 1984. Publicly Released: May 14, 1984.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the operations of the U.S. Tax Court to identify areas that need improvement.

GAO found that the Court could make improvements in the scheduling and management of cases. As a result of the increase in petitions filed with the Court, the case backlog doubled between 1980 and 1982. To reduce the backlog and prevent old cases from accumulating, the Court needs to take more action so that available trial time is used more. The Court also needs to develop techniques for monitoring the progress being made in closing the cases that have been reported as settled. Because cases are not closed when scheduled, they are placed back into the trial setting process, consuming time and personnel resources and delaying other cases from being heard. GAO found that more efficient alternatives could be tried to reduce the expense of leasing courtrooms in cities where trials are held infrequently. GAO also found a need to improve the Court's accounting procedures and travel allowance guidelines. In addition, GAO found that the Court has not taken advantage of automated equipment to assist in document processing and developing management information. The Court needs to test alternatives to its current system of basing all of its judges in Washington, D.C., and sending them to other cities to conduct trial sessions. Finally, GAO found that, after the Court holds a trial, it takes it an average of more than 14 months to issue its opinion.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Tax Court said it is exceeding, in some sessions, the suggested number of cases contained in the GAO model and feels its present trial status request procedures are adequate.

    Recommendation: The Chief Judge of the U.S. Tax Court should test the model GAO developed as a basis for estimating the number of cases to be scheduled for trial sessions.

    Agency Affected: United States Tax Court

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Chief Judge of the U.S. Tax Court should take action designed to reduce the number of cases that are presently reported as settled, but not closed, within 90 days.

    Agency Affected: United States Tax Court

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The U.S. Tax Court should experiment with the solutions GAO suggested, as well as others that it may identify, to reduce the number of cases that are presently reported as settled, but not closed, within 90 days.

    Agency Affected: United States Tax Court

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Chief Judge and the Clerk of the U.S. Tax Court should establish a mechanism for periodically reviewing the Court's trial locations and courtroom leasing arrangements to determine: (1) whether the number of trial locations could be reduced; and (2) whether arrangements can be made to secure space other than through yearly leases.

    Agency Affected: United States Tax Court

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Chief Judge and the Clerk of the U.S. Tax Court should develop written guidelines for handling and processing cash and checks and take appropriate steps to physically secure checks and cash in a safe while petitions are being processed.

    Agency Affected: United States Tax Court

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Chief Judge and the Clerk of the U.S. Tax Court should develop guidelines to supplement the Travel Regulations for U.S. Justices and Judges and GSA Travel Regulations and to establish procedures for justifying the use of first-class travel accommodations.

    Agency Affected: United States Tax Court

  7. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The Tax Court's Chief Judge believes each regular judge needs two secretaries because of the substantial administrative duties and responsibilities assigned in addition to their clerical work. The Chief Judge pointed out that the Judge's staff has not changed in over 50 years despite the increase in the case load during recent years which has placed more work on the secretaries.

    Recommendation: The Chief Judge and the Clerk of the U.S. Tax Court should provide for the periodic assessment of staffing levels required by the Court. In this regard, the need for the regular judges to have two secretaries should be examined.

    Agency Affected: United States Tax Court

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Chief Judge of the U.S. Tax Court should modify the calendar system at the Court to encourage the parties to move cases more rapidly through the process and test the feasibility of some decentralization of the court.

    Agency Affected: United States Tax Court

  9. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Chief Judge of the U.S. Tax Court should test the feasibility of some decentralization of the Court.

    Agency Affected: United States Tax Court

  10. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Chief Judge of the U.S. Tax Court should appoint a committee of judges to monitor opinion production for the purpose of identifying ways to increase the number of opinions issued. Some approaches that the committee should consider include standardizing opinion formats, encouraging shorter opinions, expediting opinion reviews, and developing production targets.

    Agency Affected: United States Tax Court

  11. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Chief Judge of the U.S. Tax Court should gather and analyze data on the length of trial sessions so that periodic adjustments to case scheduling can be made in the future.

    Agency Affected: United States Tax Court

  12. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Chief Judge of the U.S. Tax Court should assign special trial judges to handle pretrial matters in regular cases so that regular judges have more time to devote to trying cases and drafting opinions.

    Agency Affected: United States Tax Court

 

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