U.S. Courts: Action Needed to Improve IT Management and Establish a Chief Information Officer

GAO-22-105068 Published: Jul 28, 2022. Publicly Released: Jul 28, 2022.
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Fast Facts

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts relies on IT systems for court administration and probation and pretrial services.

We looked at the Office's IT workforce management. The Office didn't have a strategic approach to addressing its IT workforce needs, although it had taken steps to implement leading practices. For example, it didn't have a recruiting strategy or training program focused on its IT workforce to address the cybersecurity skills gaps it had identified in that workforce.

Also, the Office doesn't have a Chief Information Officer to handle IT oversight across the agency.

Our 18 recommendations address these issues and more.

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Highlights

What GAO Found

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (the Office) is a judicial branch agency that, among other things, provides IT support services to federal courts. Regarding IT workforce management, the Office's implementation of 12 selected leading practices across four areas varied (see table). The Office substantially implemented practices in the performance management area, but was less successful in recruitment and hiring and training and development. For example, although the Office identified gaps in the cybersecurity skills of its IT workforce, it did not have a recruiting strategy for IT staff and did not establish a training program for its IT staff. Agency officials said that they did not establish such a training program because the agency's departments are to address training on an individual or project basis. Fully addressing practices in these areas would help ensure that it has the knowledge and skills to tackle pressing IT issues.

Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts' Implementation of 12 Selected Leading Practices Associated with Four Workforce Planning and Management Areas for Its IT Workforce

IT workforce area

Overall area rating

Number of practices fully implemented

Number of practices partially implemented

Number of practices not implemented

1. Strategic planning

Partially implemented

0

3

0

2. Recruitment and hiring

Minimally implemented

0

2

1

3. Training and development

Minimally implemented

0

2

1

4. Performance management

Substantially implemented

1

2

0

Total

1

9

2

Source: GAO analysis of data provided by Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts officials. | GAO-22-105068

The Office partially implemented most of the 23 selected project management best practices for its three largest IT projects: (1) the Judiciary Electronic Filing System, (2) JSPACE (an enterprise facilities management system), and (3) Probation and Pretrial Services Automated Case Tracking System 360. It fully implemented the majority of the supplier agreement management practices for each project. However, for project planning, while the Office had developed life cycle cost estimates and schedules for each project, none of the cost estimates were comprehensive and none of the schedules were well-constructed. Full implementation of these practices would help ensure that projects meet user needs and are delivered on schedule and within budget. However, insufficient oversight and incomplete IT project management guidance have hampered the projects and may have contributed to cost increases and schedule overruns.

Although a Chief Information Officer (CIO) with enterprise-wide authority could address IT oversight and guidance shortcomings, such a position does not exist at the Office. Instead, the Associate Director for the Department of Technology Services serves as the principal IT advisor to the Director. Agency officials acknowledged that the Associate Director does not have oversight of other Office units that separately manage their own IT workforces and projects. The judicial branch does not have a statutory requirement to establish a CIO. However, according to GAO's prior work at federal agencies, leading organizations adopt and use an enterprise-wide approach to managing IT under the leadership of a CIO.

Why GAO Did This Study

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts relies on IT systems to manage information to support its lines of business. These lines of business include case management, court administration, and probation and pretrial services.

GAO was asked to review the Office's IT management. This report evaluates, among other things, the extent to which the Office (1) implemented selected leading IT workforce planning and management practices, (2) implemented selected best practices for planning and managing IT projects, and (3) has a CIO with the authority to exercise enterprise control and oversight of the Office's IT workforce and project portfolio.

To do so, GAO assessed agency documentation against 12 selected leading workforce management practices within four topic areas. It also evaluated 23 best practices for managing the Office's three largest IT acquisition projects. In addition, GAO interviewed officials from the Office about the agency's management of its IT workforce and projects.

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Recommendations

GAO is making 18 recommendations, including that the Office improve its IT workforce planning and management, enhance its IT project management practices, and establish a CIO position with enterprise-wide responsibility. The Office said it would evaluate the recommendations in light of its decentralized management model and determine what improvements to make. As discussed in the report, GAO maintains the recommendations are appropriate.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Administrative Office of the United States Courts The Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts should conduct a strategic analysis to fully determine the agency's IT staffing needs. (Recommendation 1)
Open
In its comments on our draft report, the Administrative Office (AO) did not explicitly agree or disagree with this recommendation. The Director of AO stated that the agency intended to examine and evaluate the recommendation in light of the agency's decentralized model to determine what improvements to incorporate. We will continue to follow-up with the agency on its efforts to implement this recommendation.
Administrative Office of the United States Courts The Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts should fully identify and document all of the required knowledge and skills, including technical competencies, needed for the IT workforce. (Recommendation 2)
Open
In its comments on our draft report, the Administrative Office (AO) did not explicitly agree or disagree with this recommendation. The Director of AO stated that the agency intended to examine and evaluate the recommendation in light of the agency's decentralized model to determine what improvements to incorporate. We will continue to follow-up with the agency on its efforts to implement this recommendation.
Administrative Office of the United States Courts The Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts should regularly analyze the IT workforce to identify the staffing and competency needs of the overall IT workforce and any gaps the agency may have in those areas. (Recommendation 3)
Open
In its comments on our draft report, the Administrative Office (AO) did not explicitly agree or disagree with this recommendation. The Director of AO stated that the agency intended to examine and evaluate the recommendation in light of the agency's decentralized model to determine what improvements to incorporate. Specifically, the Director stated that AO had been considering organizational changes and intended to assess the effectiveness of AO's organizational structure. The assessment is expected to consider ways to ensure, among other things, proper oversight of IT personnel and workforce planning. We will continue to follow-up with the agency on its efforts to implement this recommendation.
Administrative Office of the United States Courts The Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts should develop specific strategies and plans to address gaps in IT competencies and staffing, after completing a strategic analysis of all of its IT competency and staffing needs. (Recommendation 4)
Open
In its comments on our draft report, the Administrative Office (AO) did not explicitly agree or disagree with this recommendation. The Director of AO stated that the agency intended to examine and evaluate the recommendation in light of the agency's decentralized model to determine what improvements to incorporate. We will continue to follow-up with the agency on efforts to implement this recommendation.
Administrative Office of the United States Courts The Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts should develop and track metrics to monitor the effectiveness of the agency's recruitment and hiring efforts specifically for the IT workforce, including their effectiveness at addressing IT skill and staffing gaps, and require reporting to agency leadership on progress made in addressing skill and staffing gaps in the IT workforce. (Recommendation 5)
Open
In its comments on our draft report, the Administrative Office (AO) did not explicitly agree or disagree with this recommendation. The Director of AO stated that the agency intended to examine and evaluate the recommendation in light of the agency's decentralized model to determine what improvements to incorporate. We will continue to follow-up with the agency on its efforts to implement this recommendation.
Administrative Office of the United States Courts The Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts should adjust recruitment and hiring activities, as necessary, after establishing and tracking metrics to monitor the effectiveness of these activities at addressing skill and staffing gaps in the IT workforce. (Recommendation 6)
Open
In its comments on our draft report, the Administrative Office (AO) did not explicitly agree or disagree with this recommendation. The Director of AO stated that the agency intended to examine and evaluate the recommendation in light of the agency's decentralized model to determine what improvements to incorporate. We will continue to follow-up with the agency on its efforts to implement this recommendation.
Administrative Office of the United States Courts The Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts should establish a training program that identifies required and recommended training for all IT staff, as appropriate. (Recommendation 7)
Open
In its comments on our draft report, the Administrative Office (AO) did not explicitly agree or disagree with this recommendation. The Director of AO stated that the agency intended to examine and evaluate the recommendation in light of the agency's decentralized model to determine what improvements to incorporate. We will continue to follow-up with the agency on its efforts to implement this recommendation.
Administrative Office of the United States Courts The Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts should ensure that IT employees complete appropriate training (after establishing a training program that identifies required training for IT staff). (Recommendation 8)
Open
In its comments on our draft report, the Administrative Office (AO) did not explicitly agree or disagree with this recommendation. The Director of AO stated that the agency intended to examine and evaluate the recommendation in light of the agency's decentralized model to determine what improvements to incorporate. We will continue to follow-up with the agency on its efforts to implement this recommendation.
Administrative Office of the United States Courts The Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts should collect and assess performance data (including qualitative or quantitative measures, as appropriate) to determine how the training program for IT staff (once implemented) contributes to improved performance and results. (Recommendation 9)
Open
In its comments on our draft report, the Administrative Office (AO) did not explicitly agree or disagree with this recommendation. The Director of AO stated that the agency intended to examine and evaluate the recommendation in light of the agency's decentralized model to determine what improvements to incorporate. We will continue to follow-up with the agency on its efforts to implement this recommendation.
Administrative Office of the United States Courts The Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts should update the AO performance management process to include appropriate technical competencies, once identified, against which IT staff performance should be assessed. (Recommendation 10)
Open
In its comments on our draft report, the Administrative Office (AO) did not explicitly agree or disagree with this recommendation. The Director of AO stated that the agency intended to examine and evaluate the recommendation in light of the agency's decentralized model to determine what improvements to incorporate. We will continue to follow-up with the agency on its efforts to implement this recommendation.
Administrative Office of the United States Courts The Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts should explicitly align individual performance expectations for IT staff with organizational goals. (Recommendation 11)
Open
In its comments on our draft report, the Administrative Office (AO) did not explicitly agree or disagree with this recommendation. The Director of AO stated that the agency intended to examine and evaluate the recommendation in light of the agency's decentralized model to determine what improvements to incorporate. We will continue to follow-up with the agency on its efforts to implement this recommendation.
Administrative Office of the United States Courts The Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts should require the Departments of Administrative Services and Program Services to ensure that the selected IT projects comply with the agency's guidance or a set of standard processes for IT project management. (Recommendation 12)
Open
In its comments on our draft report, the Administrative Office (AO) did not explicitly agree or disagree with this recommendation. The Director of AO stated that the agency intended to examine and evaluate the recommendation in light of the agency's decentralized model to determine what improvements to incorporate. The Director also reported plans to perform an assessment of the effectiveness of AO's IT governance and management. We will continue to follow-up with the agency on its efforts to implement this recommendation.
Administrative Office of the United States Courts The Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts should develop guidance for IT projects (including contractors) to follow related to the best practices that were not fully reflected in AO's existing IT project management guidance. The guidance should address, among other things, cost and schedule estimating best practices. (Recommendation 13)
Open
In its comments on our draft report, the Administrative Office (AO) did not explicitly agree or disagree with this recommendation. The Director of AO stated that the agency intended to examine and evaluate the recommendation in light of the agency's decentralized model to determine what improvements to incorporate. The Director also reported plans to perform an assessment of the effectiveness of AO's IT governance and management. We will continue to follow-up with the agency on its efforts to implement this recommendation.
Administrative Office of the United States Courts The Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts should require, and take steps to ensure, that the JEFS, JSPACE, and PACTS 360 projects document and track activities related to the best practices that they did not fully implement. (Recommendation 14)
Open
In its comments on our draft report, the Administrative Office (AO) did not explicitly agree or disagree with this recommendation. The Director of AO stated that the agency intended to examine and evaluate the recommendation in light of the agency's decentralized model to determine what improvements to incorporate. The Director also reported plans to perform an assessment of the effectiveness of AO's IT governance and management. We will continue to follow-up with the agency on its efforts to implement this recommendation.
Administrative Office of the United States Courts The Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts should establish a CIO with enterprise control and oversight of the agency's IT workforce and project portfolio. (Recommendation 15)
Open
In its comments on our draft report, the Administrative Office (AO) did not explicitly agree or disagree with this recommendation. The Director of AO stated that the agency intended to examine and evaluate the recommendation in light of the agency's decentralized model to determine what improvements to incorporate. The Director also reported that AO had been considering organizational changes, including the adoption of a CIO model. The agency intended to perform an assessment of the effectiveness of AO's IT governance, management, and organizational structure. We will continue to follow-up with the agency on its efforts to implement this recommendation.
Administrative Office of the United States Courts The Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts should direct the Court Services Office to perform and document a comprehensive assessment of risks to EPA program obligations, including identifying, analyzing, and responding to risks associated with obligating EPA program funds. (Recommendation 16)
Open
In its comments on our draft report, the Administrative Office (AO) did not explicitly agree or disagree with this recommendation. The Director of AO stated that the agency's Office of Compliance and Risk intended to undertake a comprehensive risk analysis of the EPA program consistent with other AO risk management studies. We will continue to follow-up with the agency on its efforts to implement this recommendation.
Administrative Office of the United States Courts The Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts should direct the Court Services Office to (1) fully design and document the procedures for reviews of EPA program obligations; and (2) establish performance metrics for evaluating the effectiveness of the agency's internal control system over EPA program obligations in supporting program objectives and minimizing risks. (Recommendation 17)
Open
In its comments on the draft report, the Administrative Office (AO) did not explicitly agree or disagree with this recommendation. The Director of AO stated that the agency had hired an individual to be responsible for training AO staff and court units, among others, in the documentation and self-assessment of internal controls. The Director stated that this training was intended to implement our recommendation to have better documentation of procedures for EPA program reviews and performance. We will continue to follow up with the agency on its efforts to implement this recommendation.
Administrative Office of the United States Courts The Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts should direct the Court Services Office to (1) require AO offices to conduct and document periodic reviews of control activities over EPA program obligations to ensure their continued effectiveness in achieving the EPA program's objectives; and (2) document responsibilities for conducting reviews of control activities and addressing any deficiencies in the established internal controls over EPA program obligations. (Recommendation 18)
Open
In its comments on the draft report, the Administrative Office (AO) did not explicitly agree or disagree with this recommendation. The Director of AO stated that the agency had hired an individual to be responsible for training AO staff and court units, among others, in the documentation and self-assessment of internal controls. The Director stated that this training was intended to implement our recommendation to establish periodic reviews of internal controls over EPA program obligations. We will continue to follow up with the agency on its efforts to implement this recommendation.

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