U.S. Sentencing Commission:

Changes Needed to Improve Effectiveness

T-GGD-90-17: Published: Mar 7, 1990. Publicly Released: Mar 7, 1990.

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GAO discussed the United States Sentencing Commission's management and operations. GAO noted that the Commission: (1) had not established a plan to guide its efforts after developing sentencing guidelines; (2) did not, until recently, establish clear lines of authority or define a central role for the staff director; (3) experienced vacancies and turnover in key positions, and went without a research director for over 18 months; (4) had weak internal controls and poorly defined management policies; and (5) had not yet completed a basic evaluation program. GAO also noted that a commissioner's research might conflict with parallel staff research, and another commissioner-led research project operated without accountability.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Matters for Congressional Consideration

    Matter: To address the Commission's management weaknesses, Congress should explore directly with the commissioners ways to strengthen the role of the staff director. One way is to amend the Sentencing Reform Act to shift the Commission's control and authority over the staff director to the Chairman. This could be accomplished by giving the Chairman, rather than the Commission, responsibility for appointing the staff director and fixing the staff director's duties.

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The oversight committees have had sufficient time to consider this recommendation and have not placed the issue on their legislative calendars. Therefore, GAO does not believe any action will be taken in the immediate future. Should action occur, GAO will notify OP and complete an accomplishment report.

    Matter: To address the Commission's management weaknesses, Congress should step up congressional oversight over the Commission's monitoring and evaluation activities, with particular attention to the need for a set of milestones to pace actions needed to ensure that the Commission's statutorily required report will be accurate, complete, and timely.

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The oversight committees have had sufficient time to consider this recommendation. Some limited action to increase oversight of these activities was taken by Chairman Schumer's subcommittee shortly after the March 1990 testimony, but was not as far reaching as GAO expected. No further action is planned. Should action occur, GAO will notify OP and complete an accomplishment report.

    Matter: To address the Commission's management weaknesses, Congress should prohibit commissioner-led research projects which are not consistent with an overall research agenda adopted by the full Commission.

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The oversight committees have had sufficient time to consider this recommendation and have not placed the issue on their legislative calendars. Therefore, GAO does not believe any action will be taken in the immediate future. Should action occur, GAO will notify OP and complete an accomplishment report.

    Recommendation for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Commission should establish a long-range plan or strategy to guide it through the next several years. Such a plan should serve as a basis for allocating staff and other commission resources in accordance with priorities set by the Commission as a whole.

    Agency Affected: United States Sentencing Commission

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On September 28, 1990, the Sentencing Commission issued a 3-year work plan. The plan outlined strategies for organizing key aspects of the Commission's future work and set forth a plan for accomplishing proposed work over the 3-year period. GAO believes it will help the Commission effectively use its resources and avoid duplication of effort.

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