Legal Services Corporation:

More Needs to Be Done to Correct Case Service Reporting Problems

GGD-99-183: Published: Sep 20, 1999. Publicly Released: Sep 27, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO determined: (1) what efforts the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) and its grantees have made to correct problems with case service reporting; and (2) whether these efforts are likely to resolve the case reporting problems that occurred in 1997.

GAO noted that: (1) LSC revised its written guidance and issued a new handbook to its grantees to clarify case reporting requirements; (2) based on telephone interviews with a sample of 79 LSC grantee executive directors, GAO estimates that 90 percent of grantees viewed the new guidance as having clarified reporting requirements, overall; (3) virtually all grantees said they responded to the new requirements by making or planning to make one or more changes to their program operations; (4) however, many grantees indicated that they were unclear about certain aspects of LSC's reporting requirements, particularly regarding: (a) the specific information required on client assets; (b) the information required for documenting citizenship/alien eligibility for services provided over the telephone; (c) the criteria for avoiding duplicate counts of cases; and (d) who can provide legal assistance to clients in order for the service to be counted as a case; (5) LSC initiated a self-inspection procedure in which grantees were required to review their 1998 case data and submit certification letters to LSC if they found that the extent of error in their data was 5 percent or less; (6) grantees who could not certify their 1998 data were required to develop corrective actions that would address the problems identified; (7) about 75 percent of the grantees submitted letters to LSC certifying that the error rate in their 1998 data was 5 percent or less, while about 25 percent of the grantees submitted letters to LSC indicating that they could not certify their 1998 data; (8) according to LSC, about 30 of the 50 grantees with the largest caseloads were unable to certify their 1998 case data; (9) GAO could not assess whether the number of certified and uncertified programs that LSC obtained for 1998 was correct, lower, or higher than it should be; (10) this is because LSC did not provide grantees with a standardized way of reporting their self-inspection results, and LSC's instructions on how to conduct the self-inspections may have led some of the smaller grantees to select too few cases to reliably assess the amount of error in their case data; (11) some grantees did not correctly interpret LSC's case reporting requirements; and (12) for these reasons, GAO does not believe that LSC's efforts to date have been sufficient to fully resolve the case reporting problems that occurred in 1997.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: At the direction of Congress, LSC's Office of Inspector General validated LSC's 1999 self-inspection results. No validation was done for 1998, and it is unclear what/if any future validation efforts will be undertaken.

    Recommendation: The President of LSC should ensure that procedures are in place to validate the results of LSC's 1998 self-inspection, as well as future self inspections.

    Agency Affected: Legal Services Corporation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In LSC's most recent self-inspection, grantees were instructed to draw samples that were sufficiently large to ensure that results from them were reliable.

    Recommendation: The President of LSC should direct grantees to select samples for future self-inspections that are sufficient to draw reliable conclusions about magnitude of case data errors.

    Agency Affected: Legal Services Corporation

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: LSC utilized a standardized data collection instrument for its most recent self-inspection that was accompanied by clear and detailed instructions for sampling, response, and tallying the results.

    Recommendation: The President of LSC should develop a standard protocol for future self-inspections to ensure that grantees systematically and consistently report their results for open and closed cases.

    Agency Affected: Legal Services Corporation

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: LSC believes that actions it already had in place before GAO's review--such as updating information on its web site and providing responses to questions over the telephone, in writing, and during personal visits to grantee offices--are effective in facilitating understanding of case reporting requirements. Therefore, it does not plan to take action on this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The President of LSC should explore options for facilities correct and consistent understanding of reporting requirements, such as developing and disseminating a training video for grantee staff.

    Agency Affected: Legal Services Corporation

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its revised case reporting handbook, LSC specified who can render legal assistance and under what circumstances.

    Recommendation: The President of LSC should clarify and disseminate LSC's policy concerning who can provide legal assistance to clients for the service to be counted as a case.

    Agency Affected: Legal Services Corporation

  6. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: According to LSC, it has devoted a significant amount of time attempting to improve guidance on this matter. LSC has concluded that in most cases, issues of duplication are fairly clear (for example, a client is entered into the computer system more than once, or the same client has visited two or more grantee offices with the same legal problem). LSC says that in other cases legal judgment is involved in deciding whether to count legal assistance to a client as more than one case. LSC believes that issuing new guidance would not resolve the issue and that the overall error rate in its grantees' caseload statistics have declined in the past year even without a change in guidance on this particular aspect of reporting. Accordingly, LSC has decided to leave the guidance on single case reporting as it is.

    Recommendation: The President of LSC should clarify and disseminate LSC's criteria for single recording of cases.

    Agency Affected: Legal Services Corporation

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: LSC developed specific and simplified guidance on asset documentation. LSC incorporated these changes into its Case Service Reporting Handbook and disseminated it to all of its grantees.

    Recommendation: The President of LSC should clarify and disseminate information on the specific information on client assets that grantees must obtain, record, and maintain.

    Agency Affected: Legal Services Corporation

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: LSC issued a revised case reporting handbook to its grantees, which contained a section explaining the information required in telephone service only cases.

    Recommendation: The President of LSC should clarify and disseminate information on the types of citizenship/alien eligibility information grantees must obtain, record, and maintain for clients who receive legal assistance only over the telephone.

    Agency Affected: Legal Services Corporation

 

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