U.S. Commission on Civil Rights:

More Operational and Financial Oversight Needed

GAO-04-18: Published: Oct 31, 2003. Publicly Released: Nov 6, 2003.

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Robert E. Robertson
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Over the past 10 years, GAO, the Congress, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and others have raised numerous concerns about the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. GAO was asked to assess (1) the adequacy of the Commission's project management procedures, (2) whether the Commission's controls over contracting services and managing contracts are sufficient, and (3) the extent of recent oversight of the Commission's financial activities.

The Commission has established a set of project management procedures for commissioners and staff to follow when they plan, implement, and report the results of approved Commission projects. However, the procedures lack, among other things, a requirement for systematic commissioner input throughout projects. As a result, commissioners lack the opportunity to review many of the reports and other products drafted by Commission staff before products are released to the public, which serves to significantly reduce the opportunity for commissioners to help shape a report's findings, recommendations, and policy implications of civil rights issues. The Commission lacks sufficient management control over its contracting procedures. The Commission routinely did not follow proper procedures for its fiscal year 2002 contracting activities. For the Commission's largest dollar contract, key documentation on how the contract was initially awarded was missing from contract files. Moreover, Commission officials did not follow the legal requirements to obtain competition for its subsequent media services contracts. As a result, the Commission did not have all of the information it should have had to determine whether its contracts provided the best value to the government. Little, if any, external oversight of the Commission's financial activities has taken place in recent years. An independent accounting firm has not audited the Commission's financial statements for the last 12 years. Although the Accountability of Tax Dollars Act of 2002 requires the Commission--along with certain other executive agencies--to have its financial statements independently audited annually, the Commission has been granted a waiver by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) from compliance with the financial statement preparation and audit requirements of the act for the fiscal years 2002 and 2003 audit cycles, which OMB was authorized to waive during an initial transition period of up to 2 years.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In October 2006, the Commission issued a new Administrative Instruction (AI) 3-6, that states that it is the Staff Director's responsibility to provide Commissioners with project cost information on a quarterly basis. Previously, it was the department heads' responsibility to provide project cost information to the Staff Director. The information was then discussed with Commissioners during Commission meetings, but not necessarily provided to the Commissioners for them to analyze. Since the new AI was issued, the Staff Director has provided project cost reports to the Commissioners during the first two quarters of 2007. The next report will be provided to them in September 2007.

    Recommendation: To further the Commission's efforts to better plan and monitor project activities, the Commission should monitor the adequacy and timeliness of project cost information that the staff director will soon be providing to commissioners and make the necessary adjustments, which could include providing information on a monthly rather than quarterly basis, as necessary.

    Agency Affected: Commission on Civil Rights

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In June 2005 the Commission reported that it had adopted policies in May 2005 that will provide increased Commissioner involvement in project planning and execution and budgetary issues, as suggested by GAO.

    Recommendation: To further the Commission's efforts to better plan and monitor project activities, the Commission should adopt procedures that provide for increased commissioner involvement in project implementation and report preparation. These procedures could include giving commissioners a periodic status report and interim review of the entire range of Commission draft products so that, where appropriate, commissioners may help fashion, refine, and provide input to products prior to their release to the public.

    Agency Affected: Commission on Civil Rights

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Although the Commission initially disagreed with this recommendation, the agency later stated that it "could be stronger in this area" and took steps to implement the recommendation. Since GAO's report was issued, the Commission supplemented its contracts and procurements operations by contracting with a contracts and procurement specialist who began providing services to the Commission in December 2003. According to Commission officials, this individual generally addresses complex procurement issues.

    Recommendation: To ensure proper contracting activities at the Commission, the Commission should establish greater controls over its contracting activities in order to be in compliance with the Federal Acquisition Regulation. These controls could include putting in place properly qualified personnel to oversee contracting activities, properly collecting and analyzing information about capabilities within the market to satisfy the Commission's needs, and properly administering activities undertaken by a contractor during the time from contract award to contract closeout.

    Agency Affected: Commission on Civil Rights

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In August 2006, the Commission reported that, to meet the financial audit requirements of the Accountability of Tax Dollars Act of 2002, the accounting firm of Parker, Whitfield & Associates was retained to conduct a financial audit for FY 2004. The Parker, Whitfield audit is complete, with the report expected to be submitted to OMB by the end of the year. The Commission's FY 2005 financial audit has also been completed and that report has already been submitted to OMB in final.

    Recommendation: While the Commission has received waivers from preparing and submitting audited financial statements for fiscal years 2002 and 2003, the Commission should take steps immediately in order to meet the financial statement preparation and audit requirements of the Accountability of Tax Dollars Act of 2002 for fiscal year 2004. These steps toward audited fiscal year 2004 financial statements could include, for example, (1) identifying the skills and resources that the Commission needs to prepare its financial statements in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles and comparing these needs to the skills and resources that the Commission presently has available; (2) preparing such financial statements, or at least the balance sheet with related note disclosures, for fiscal year 2003; and (3) ensuring that evidence is available to support the information in those financial statements.

    Agency Affected: Commission on Civil Rights


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