District of Columbia Courts:

Financial Related Issues for Fiscal Year 1998

T-AIMD/OGC-99-176: Published: May 18, 1999. Publicly Released: May 18, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the issues related to the District of Columbia (DC) Courts' financial operations for fiscal year (FY) 1998, focusing on: (1) identifying DC Courts' total obligations for fiscal years 1996, 1997, and 1998; (2) whether DC Courts had a spending plan for FY 1998, and whether it obligated funds consistent with available resources; (3) why payments to court-appointed attorneys were deferred between July and September 1998; and (4) whether DC Courts processed payments to court-appointed attorneys in accordance with policies and procedures.

GAO noted that: (1) DC Courts experienced difficulties in planning and budgeting during this transition year; (2) DC Courts' records showed that it did not operate within its available resources, potentially in violation of the Anti-Deficiency Act; (3) GAO also identified a legal issue regarding the Crime Victims Compensation Program; (4) DC Courts' records indicated that total obligations in fiscal years 1996, 1997, and 1998 were $115.4, $119, and $126.3 million, respectively; (5) FY 1998 obligations reflect GAO's adjustments, and are not comparable to the prior years' obligations; (6) upon receipt of its FY 1998 appropriations, DC Courts was responsible for developing a spending plan based on an appropriation that was about $15.5 million less than it requested as a result of funding changes under the Revitalization Act and the FY 1998 appropriation act; (7) DC Courts did not develop such a plan or properly monitor spending to ensure that its obligations did not exceed available resources; (8) it obligated throughout the year based on its expectation of receiving additional funds; (9) by the end of the fiscal year, DC Courts' records showed obligations of almost $122.2 million and funds received of about $121.8 million; (10) however, GAO found that adjustments needed to be made to these amounts; (11) as adjusted, DC Courts' recorded obligations and available funding for FY 1998 would be $126.3 and $121 million, respectively; (12) thus, DC Courts potentially over-obligated available funds by more than $5 million; (13) the Anti-Deficiency Act prohibits federal and DC government officials from making expenditures or obligations in excess of amounts available in an appropriation or fund unless otherwise authorized by law; (14) to avoid an Anti-Deficiency Act violation, the DC Courts made the decision to defer payments for court-appointed attorneys for the remainder of the fiscal year, and then used FY 1999 appropriations to pay those amounts; (15) however, since the vouchers were approved by the presiding judges or hearing commissioners in FY 1998, the obligations should have been recorded in FY 1998; (16) DC Courts processed vouchers for court-appointed attorneys in accordance with its policies and procedures; and (17) however, its procedures did not include timeframes for making payments to court-appointed attorneys.

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