Courthouse Construction:

Improved 5-Year Plan Could Promote More Informed Decisionmaking

GGD-97-27: Published: Dec 31, 1996. Publicly Released: Dec 31, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the General Services Administration (GSA) and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts' (AOC) 5-year courthouse construction plan, focusing on whether the 5-year plan: (1) reflects the judiciary's most urgent courthouse construction needs; and (2) provides information needed by decisionmakers to evaluate the relative merit of project proposals.

GAO found that: (1) while the judiciary has developed a methodology for assessing project urgency and a 5-year construction plan to communicate its urgent courthouse construction needs, GAO's analysis suggests that the 5-year plan does not reflect all of the judiciary's most urgent courthouse construction needs; (2) in preparing the 5-year plan, the judiciary developed urgency scores for 45 projects; (3) it did not develop urgency scores for other locations that according to AOC also need new courthouses; (4) GAO's analysis of available data on conditions at the 80 other locations showed that 30 of them likely would receive an urgency score higher than some projects in the plan; (5) for projects that are in the plan, high urgency scores did not always lead to high funding priority; (6) AOC officials said that this was a transitional plan in that it placed heavy emphasis in assigning funding priorities on the projects already in the GSA pipeline rather than solely on project urgency; (7) GAO's work also showed that the judiciary's plan and related material do not present competing projects in a long-term strategic context or articulate a rationale or justification for proposed projects and their relative priority; (8) they do not contain project-specific information on the conditions that exist at each location that would help decisionmakers compare the merits of individual projects, better understand the rationale for funding priorities, and justify funding decisions; and (9) GAO recognizes that the plan is transitional and that it is reasonable for pipeline projects to receive priority consideration for funding, but the plan and related material should make a convincing argument as to why they should be funded before others that have higher urgency scores.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: AOC has hired Ernst & Young to examine its capital construction process. The initial phase of this process is scheduled for completion next year, but Ernst & Young envisions additional research may be required to get definitive strategies to improve this area. GAO plans to monitor Ernst & Young progress, and when AOC implements Ernst & Young recommendations and staff are available, GAO anticipates revisiting AOC's process to see if it addresses the recommendations.

    Recommendation: The Director, AOC, should work with the Judicial Conference Committee on Security, Space, and Facilities to make improvements to the 5-year plan. These improvements should be aimed at making the plan more informative and a more useful tool for helping Congress to better understand project priorities and individual needs. At a minimum, the plan should fully disclose the relative urgency of competing projects.

    Agency Affected: Administrative Office of the United States Courts

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: AOC has hired Ernst & Young to examine its capital construction process. The initial phase of this process is scheduled for completion next year, but Ernst & Young envisions additional research may be required to get definitive strategies to improve this area. GAO plans to monitor Ernst & Young progress, and when AOC implements Ernst & Young recommendations and staff are available, GAO anticipates revisiting AOC's process to see if it addresses the recommendations.

    Recommendation: The Director, AOC, should work with the Judicial Conference Committee on Security, Space, and Facilities to make improvements to the 5-year plan. These improvements should be aimed at making the plan more informative and a more useful tool for helping Congress to better understand project priorities and individual needs. At a minimum, the plan should articulate the rationale or justification for projects, including information on the conditions that are driving urgency, such as specific concerns or operational inefficiencies.

    Agency Affected: Administrative Office of the United States Courts

 

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