oversight

U.S. Commission on Civil Rights: More Operational and Financial Oversight Needed

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2003-10-31.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

               United States General Accounting Office

GAO            Report to the Chairman, Subcommittee
               on the Constitution, Committee on the
               Judiciary, House of Representatives


October 2003
               U.S. COMMISSION ON
               CIVIL RIGHTS
               More Operational and
               Financial Oversight
               Needed




GAO-04-18

                                                October 2003


                                                U.S. COMMISSION ON CIVIL RIGHTS

                                                More Operational and Financial Oversight
Highlights of GAO-04-18, a report to the        Needed
Chairman, Subcommittee on the
Constitution, Committee on the Judiciary,
House of Representatives




Over the past 10 years, GAO, the                The Commission has established a set of project management procedures
Congress, the Office of Personnel               for commissioners and staff to follow when they plan, implement, and report
Management (OPM), and others                    the results of approved Commission projects. However, the procedures lack,
have raised numerous concerns                   among other things, a requirement for systematic commissioner input
about the U.S. Commission on Civil              throughout projects. As a result, commissioners lack the opportunity to
Rights. GAO was asked to assess
(1) the adequacy of the
                                                review many of the reports and other products drafted by Commission staff
Commission’s project management                 before products are released to the public, which serves to significantly
procedures, (2) whether the                     reduce the opportunity for commissioners to help shape a report’s findings,
Commission’s controls over                      recommendations, and policy implications of civil rights issues.
contracting services and managing
contracts are sufficient, and (3) the           The Commission lacks sufficient management control over its contracting
extent of recent oversight of the               procedures. The Commission routinely did not follow proper procedures for
Commission’s financial activities.              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
GAO recommends, among other                     the legal requirements to obtain competition for its subsequent media
things, that the Commission adopt               services contracts. As a result, the Commission did not have all of the
procedures that provide for                     information it should have had to determine whether its contracts provided
increased commissioner                          the best value to the government.
involvement in projects; establish
greater controls over its                       Little, if any, external oversight of the Commission’s financial activities has
contracting activities in order to be           taken place in recent years. An independent accounting firm has not audited
in compliance with federal                      the Commission’s financial statements for the last 12 years. Although the
regulations; and take steps                     Accountability of Tax Dollars Act of 2002 requires the Commission—along
immediately to meet the financial
                                                with certain other executive agencies—to have its financial statements
statement preparation and audit
requirements of the Accountability              independently audited annually, the Commission has been granted a waiver
of Tax Dollars Act of 2002 for fiscal           by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) from compliance with the
year 2004.                                      financial statement preparation and audit requirements of the act for the
                                                fiscal years 2002 and 2003 audit cycles, which OMB was authorized to waive
In commenting on a draft of this                during an initial transition period of up to 2 years.
report, four of the commissioners
agreed with GAO’s conclusions and               Management Reporting Structure, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
recommendations. GAO did not
receive comments from the
remaining four commissioners. In
separate comments, the staff                                                        Commissioners (8)
director indicated he will consider
implementing GAO’s
recommendations but took
exception with many of GAO’s
                                                                                        Staff Director
findings of management
weaknesses at the Commission.
                                                            Asst. Staff       General                 Chief
www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-04-18.                                                                               Chief
                                                             Director         Counsel               Budget &        ASCD
                                                              OCRE             OGC               Finance Division
To view the full product, including the scope
and methodology, click on the link above.
                                                Source: GAO analysis.
For more information, contact Robert E.
Robertson at (202) 512-7215 or
robertsonr@gao.gov.
Contents 



Letter                                                                                      1
                Results in Brief 
                                                          2
                Background
                                                                 4
                Procedures Have Improved, but Lack Some Key Elements of Good 

                  Project Management                                                        7
                Controls Over Commission’s Contracting Procedures Are
                  Insufficient                                                            16
                No Independent Financial Audits Have Been Conducted in Recent
                  Years                                                                   21
                Conclusions                                                               24
                Recommendations                                                           25
                Agency Comments and Our Evaluation                                        26

Appendix I      Scope and Methodology                                                     28



Appendix II 	   Products Issued or Expected to Be Issued after
                Fiscal Year 2002                                                          34



Appendix III    Comments from Four Commissioners                                          35



Appendix IV     Comments from the Commission’s Staff Director                             40
                GAO Comments                                                              51

Appendix V      GAO Contacts and Staff Acknowledgments                                    58
                GAO Contacts                                                              58
                Acknowledgments                                                           58


Tables
                Table 1: Number of Products Issued by OCRE, OGC, and OSD
                         during Fiscal Year 2002, by Type of Product                      11
                Table 2: OGC, OCRE, and OSD Projects and Products, Fiscal Year
                         2002                                                             30




                Page i                              GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
         Table 3: Number of Products Issued or Expected to Be Issued after
                  Fiscal Year 2002 by OCRE and OGC from Projects That
                  Were Ongoing during Fiscal Year 2002, by Type of Product                         34


Figure
         Figure 1: U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Project Management
                  Reporting Structure, Fiscal Year 2002                                            9




         Abbreviations

         ASCD              Administrative Services and Clearinghouse Division 

         FAR               Federal Acquisition Regulation 

         FPDC              Federal Procurement Data Center 

         GSA               General Services Administration 

         NFC               National Finance Center 

         OCRE              Office of Civil Rights Evaluation 

         OGC               Office of General Counsel 

         OMB               Office of Management and Budget 

         OSD               Office of the Staff Director 

         RFQ               Request for Quotation 





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         Page ii                                       GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
United States General Accounting Office
Washington, DC 20548




                                     October 31, 2003 


                                     The Honorable Steve Chabot 

                                     Chairman 

                                     Subcommittee on the Constitution 

                                     Committee on the Judiciary 

                                     House of Representatives 


                                     Dear Mr. Chairman: 


                                     The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights was created as an independent, 

                                     bipartisan, fact-finding agency to protect the civil rights of people in the 

                                     United States. The Commission is authorized to undertake projects that 

                                     study the impact of federal civil rights laws and policies and disseminate 

                                     information on its findings through the issuance of reports to the Congress

                                     and the President. In our past work, we recommended to the Commission

                                     ways to improve how it managed its projects and issued reports.1


                                     You asked us to assess 


                                •    the adequacy of the Commission’s project management procedures,

                                •	   whether the Commission’s controls over contracting services and
                                     managing contracts are sufficient, and

                                •    the extent of recent oversight of the Commission’s financial activities.

                                     To respond to your request, we reviewed Commission records, applicable
                                     legislation and regulations, and internal administrative guidance. We
                                     interviewed all current commissioners, the staff director, key Commission
                                     officials, and several former Commission officials. We also observed
                                     several Commission meetings. In addition, we reviewed all projects and all
                                     contracts that were active during fiscal year 2002.2 Our review focused on


                                     1
                                     See U.S. General Accounting Office, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights: Agency Lacks
                                     Basic Management Controls, GAO/HEHS-97-125, (Washington, D.C.: July 8, 1997) and U.S.
                                     Commission on Civil Rights: Update on Its Response to GAO Recommendations,
                                     GAO/HEHS-98-86R, (Washington, D.C.: Feb. 3, 1998).
                                     2
                                      We did not review the Commission’s day-to-day administrative contracts, such as those for
                                     court reporters, temporary support services, and meeting room rentals.



                                     Page 1                                        GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
                   projects undertaken by Commission offices located at headquarters and
                   excluded those produced in field office locations.3 Our review also focused
                   on whether the Commission maximized competition and followed
                   established procedures in purchasing services. See appendix I for a more
                   detailed overview of our scope and methodology. We performed our work
                   in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards
                   between December 2002 and September 2003.


                   The Commission has established a set of project management procedures
Results in Brief   for commissioners and staff to follow when they plan, implement, and
                   report the results of approved Commission projects. However, the
                   procedures lack certain key elements of good project management that are
                   reflected in federal internal control and budget preparation guidance. For
                   example, commissioners have not generally received updates about
                   certain project cost information. Commissioners, in practice, make many
                   planning decisions with little or no discussion of project costs, which can
                   eventually contribute to problems such as delayed products and lower-
                   quality products if too many projects are undertaken. While some steps are
                   being taken to increase the flow of cost information, it remains unclear
                   whether this will meet Commission needs. Additionally, Commission
                   procedures do not provide for systematic commissioner input throughout
                   projects. As a result, commissioners often 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—$156,000 for media services—which has been ongoing for
                   over 3 years—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 subsequent
                   media services contracts. As a result, the Commission did not have all of
                   the information it should have had to determine whether its awards



                   3
                    The Commission defines a project as “…a study of civil rights issues that culminates in a
                   report, transcript, summary of proceedings, film, monograph, or other product for public
                   release….”




                   Page 2                                         GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
represented the most advantageous offer available to the government. In
addition, the Commission has inadequate controls over the administration
of its contracts. For example, information on specific tasks to be
performed by vendors is communicated orally, not in writing as required
by the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR). As a result, it is difficult for
the Commission to track vendors’ performance against an objective
measure and ensure that public funds are used in an effective manner.

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.
Additionally, the Commission is not required by statute to have an Office
of Inspector General, which can typically conduct regularly scheduled or
periodic oversight of an agency’s financial standing. Although the
Accountability of Tax Dollars Act of 2002 requires the Commission, along
with other executive agencies not previously required to do so under
another statute, 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 fiscal years
2002 and 2003. During the initial transition period for this new
requirement, the act permits the OMB Director to waive these
requirements for up to 2 years.

This report contains recommendations for improving the Commission’s
project management process and for providing greater transparency and
control over its contracting and financial management activities. In
commenting on a draft of this report, four of the commissioners agreed
with our conclusions and recommendations. We did not receive comments
from the remaining four commissioners, who include the chairperson and
the vice-chair. In separate comments, the staff director pointed out that
the Commission is committed to ensuring that its operations are well
maintained and will consider implementing whatever recommendations
and suggestions appear in the final report. However, the staff director
believed that many of the findings were inaccurate and that aspects of the
draft report contained errors, unsubstantiated allegations, and
misinterpretations. After carefully reviewing his concerns, we continue to
believe that our conclusions and recommendations are well founded. The
staff director also provided technical comments and clarifications, which
we incorporated in the report as appropriate. Both sets of comments and
our detailed responses to the staff director’s comments are provided in full
in appendixes III and IV.



Page 3                                  GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
             The Commission on Civil Rights is a fact-finding federal agency required to
Background   report on civil rights issues. Established by the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the
             Commission is currently directed by eight part-time commissioners and
             employs approximately 70 staff members in fiscal year 2003. The
             Commission’s annual appropriation has averaged approximately $9 million
             since fiscal year 1995. The eight commissioners have a number of
             responsibilities, including investigating claims of voting rights violations
             and studying and disseminating information, often collected during
             specific projects, on the impact of federal civil rights laws and policies.
             Commissioners serve 6-year terms, and they are appointed on a staggered
             basis. Four commissioners are appointed by the President, two by the
             president pro tempore of the Senate, and two by the speaker of the House
             of Representatives. No more than four commissioners can be of the same
             political party.

             The Commission accomplishes its mission by (1) investigating charges of
             citizens being deprived of voting rights because of color, race, religion,
             sex, age, disability, or national origin; (2) collecting and studying
             information concerning legal developments on voting rights; (3) appraising
             federal laws and policies with respect to discrimination or denial of equal
             protection of the laws; (4) serving as a national clearinghouse for
             information; and (5) preparing public service announcements and
             advertising campaigns on civil rights issues. The Commission may hold
             hearings and, within specific guidelines, issue subpoenas to obtain certain
             records and have witnesses appear at hearings.

             The Commission must submit at least one report annually to the President
             and the Congress that monitors federal civil rights enforcement in the
             United States, and such other reports as deemed appropriate by the
             Commission, the President, or the Congress.4 For instance in 2002, the
             Commission issued a report that evaluated the civil rights activities of the
             Departments of Justice, Labor, and Transportation and another on election
             reform. The Commission is also authorized to investigate individual
             allegations of voting rights discrimination. However, because it lacks
             enforcement powers that would enable it to apply remedies in individual
             cases, the Commission refers specific complaints it receives to the




             4
              These reports are termed “statutory” reports. Statutory reports are produced in
             accordance with 42 U.S.C. 1975a(c).




             Page 4                                         GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
                         appropriate federal, state, or local government agency for action.5 A staff
                         director, who is appointed by the President with the concurrence of a
                         majority of the commissioners, oversees the day-to-day operations of the
                         Commission and manages the staff in its six regional offices and
                         Washington, D.C., headquarters.

                         The Commission also has 51 State Advisory Committees—1 for each state
                         and the District of Columbia. Each committee is composed of citizens
                         familiar with local and state civil rights issues. The members serve without
                         compensation and assist the Commission with its fact-finding,
                         investigative, and information dissemination functions.


Concerns Raised in the   In 1997, we reported that the management of the Commission’s operations
Past                     lacked control and coordination.6 Among other findings, we found that
                         projects lacked sufficient documentation, project monitoring to detect
                         budget delays or overruns was not systematic, and little coordination took
                         place among offices within the Commission to approve and disseminate
                         reports. Moreover, senior officials were unaware of how Commission
                         funds were used and lacked control over key management functions,
                         making the Commission’s resources vulnerable to misuse. We reported
                         that key records had been lost, misplaced, or were nonexistent, leaving
                         insufficient data to accurately portray Commission operations. Centralized
                         agency spending data resulted in Commission officials being unable to
                         provide costs for individual offices or functions. We also found in 1997
                         that the Commission had never requested any audits of its operations, and
                         information regarding Commission audits in its fiscal year 1996 report on
                         internal controls was misleading.7 The Commission also had not updated
                         administrative guidance to reflect a major reorganization that occurred in
                         1986. We recommended that the Commission develop and document its
                         policies and procedures to assign responsibility for management functions


                         5
                          Several agencies have enforcement authority for civil rights issues. For example, the Equal
                         Employment Opportunity Commission is charged with enforcing specific federal
                         employment antidiscrimination statutes, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,
                         the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act
                         of 1967. Also, the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights in the Department of Justice is
                         the enforcement authority for civil rights issues for the nation.
                         6
                         See U.S. General Accounting Office, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights: Agency Lacks
                         Basic Management Controls, GAO/HEHS-97-125 (Washington, D.C.: July 8, 1997).
                         7
                          Federal agencies are required under the Federal Managers’ Financial Integrity Act of 1982
                         to report on internal controls annually to the President and the Congress.




                         Page 5                                          GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
                               to the staff director and other Commission officials and provide
                               mechanisms for holding them accountable for proper management of
                               Commission operations.


Federal Regulations            The FAR, established to codify uniform policies and procedures for
Governing Contracting          acquisition by executive agencies, applies to acquisitions of supplies and
                               services made by federal executive agencies—including the U.S.
                               Commission on Civil Rights—with appropriated funds. The FAR contains
                               procedures for awarding both competitive and sole-source contracts and
                               selecting contracting officers.8

Competition Using Simplified   The FAR calls for federal agencies to promote competition to the
Acquisition Procedures         maximum extent practicable when making purchases using simplified
                               acquisition procedures.9 In 1994, Congress authorized the use of simplified
                               acquisition procedures for acquisitions not exceeding $100,000.10 Under
                               those procedures, agency officials may, among other things, select
                               contractors using expedited evaluation and selection procedures and are
                               permitted to keep documentation to a minimum. In 1996, Congress
                               authorized a test program that permits federal agencies to use simplified
                               acquisition procedures for commercial items not exceeding $5 million.11
                               The authority to issue solicitations under this test program is set to expire
                               on January 1, 2004.12

Awarding a Sole-Source         When they award on a sole-source basis,13 contracting officers are required
Contract under Simplified      by regulations to prepare a written justification explaining the absence of
Acquisition Procedures         competition. The regulations also generally require public notices of
                               proposed sole-source awards. Further, contracting officers must
                               determine that the price of a sole-source award is reasonable. This
                               determination may be based on evidence such as (1) market research,


                               8
                                “Contracting officer” means a person with the authority to enter into, administer, and/or
                               terminate contracts and make related determinations and findings.
                               9
                               FAR part 13.
                               10
                                   Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act of 1994, Pub. L. No. 103-355, 108 Stat. 3243.
                               11
                                   Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-106, Divs. D, E, 110 Stat. 642.
                               12
                                   FAR subpart 13.500(d).
                               13
                                “Sole-source acquisition” means a contract for the purchase of supplies or services that is
                               entered into or proposed to be entered into by an agency after soliciting and negotiating
                               with only one source.




                               Page 6                                             GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
                           (2) current price lists or catalogs, (3) a comparison with similar items in
                           related industry, or (4) a comparison to an independent government cost
                           estimate.

Using the Federal Supply   Under the Federal Supply Schedule, the General Services Administration
Schedule                   (GSA) awards contracts to several companies supplying comparable
                           products and services. These contracts can then be used by any federal
                           agency to purchase products and services. As a general rule, the
                           Competition in Contracting Act of 1984 requires that orders under the
                           Federal Supply Schedule result in the lowest overall cost alternative to
                           meet the needs of the agency.14 The FAR and GSA procedures generally
                           require agencies to compare schedule offerings of multiple vendors in
                           arriving at an award decision.


                           The Commission has established a set of project management procedures
Procedures Have            for commissioners and staff to follow when they plan, implement, and
Improved, but Lack         report the results of approved Commission projects. However, the
                           procedures lack certain key elements of good project management that are
Some Key Elements          reflected in federal internal control and budget preparation guidance.15 For
of Good Project            example, commissioners do not generally receive updates about certain
                           project cost information. Commissioners, in practice, make many planning
Management                 decisions with little or no discussion of project costs, which can
                           eventually contribute to problems such as delayed products and lower-
                           quality products if too many projects are undertaken. Additionally,
                           Commission procedures do not provide for systematic commissioner input
                           throughout projects. In practice, commissioners do not always have the
                           opportunity to review many of the reports and other products drafted by
                           Commission staff before products are released to the public, which serves



                           14
                            If this requirement is met, and the program has been open to all responsible sources, the
                           competition requirements of the Competition in Contracting Act are satisfied. See 10 U.S.C.
                           § 2302(2)(C) and 41 U.S.C. § 259(b)(3).
                           15
                             We used a combination of OMB, private sector, and our guidance as criteria to identify
                           key elements of good project management. These criteria included U.S. General
                           Accounting Office, Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government,
                           GAO/AIMD-00-21.3.1 (Washington, D.C.: Nov. 1999); Preparation and Submission of
                           Budget Estimates (2002) (OMB Circular No. A-11, Part 2); Project Management Scalable
                           Methodology Guide ( 1997, James R. Chapman); A Guide to the Project Management
                           Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide–2000 Edition (The Project Management Institute,
                           September 2003); and Project Management–Conventional Project Management (Northern
                           Institute of Technology, Hamburg, March 2002). See appendix I, for additional details about
                           our criteria.




                           Page 7                                        GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
                           to significantly reduce the opportunity for commissioners to help shape a
                           report’s findings, recommendations, and policy implications of civil rights
                           issues.


Commission Has Updated     The Commission has made a number of improvements in project
Its Management Policies    management since our 1997 review. For example, the Commission has
and Procedures to Better   revised and established policies that clarify the roles of the staff director
                           and senior Commission staff such as the assistant staff director of the
Manage Projects            Office of Civil Rights Evaluation (OCRE) and the general counsel in the
                           Office of the General Counsel (OGC), both of whom report directly to the
                           staff director. These three key Commission officials are responsible for
                           carrying out the policies established by the eight commissioners and for
                           directly overseeing and managing virtually all headquarters projects that
                           result in Commission products.16 See figure 1 for an abbreviated
                           organization chart that shows the reporting relationship between
                           commissioners, the staff director, and senior Commission staff.




                           16
                             At the time of our current review, the general counsel position was vacant and the deputy
                           general counsel was overseeing and managing OGC projects and products and reporting to
                           the staff director.




                           Page 8                                         GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
Figure 1: U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Project Management Reporting Structure, Fiscal Year 2002




                                                     Commissioners (8)




                                                          Staff Director




                           Assistant                        Deputy
                                                                                                       $
                          Staff Director                 General Counsel                            Chief
                          Office of Civil                   Office of                        Budget and Finance
                        Rights Evaluation                General Counsel                          Division




                   1     2    3   4    5             1    2     3    4   5    6    7                    1
                    Project Team Leaders                 Project Team Leaders                Project Team Leader

                 12 projects, 16 products                9 projects, 15 products              1 project, 1 product



Source: GAO analysis.

                                            In addition to clarified roles of the staff director and senior Commission
                                            staff, the chief of the Budget and Finance Division now regularly provides
                                            the staff director with spending data by office and function. This detailed
                                            information enables the staff director to track the status of the
                                            Commission’s expenditures by organizational component at headquarters
                                            and field offices.




                                            Page 9                                     GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
Senior Commission staff and the project team leaders we interviewed
were also using various project management procedures to meet target
deadlines. For example, the assistant staff director, OCRE, and the deputy
general counsel, OGC, were using a combination of techniques to ensure
that project deadlines were met. These techniques included weekly
meetings with staff, weekly or monthly reports from staff, and computer-
generated schedules to monitor large, complex projects and smaller
projects. Moreover, all project team leaders were routinely monitoring
their assigned projects to ensure that projects stayed on schedule. Our
review determined that the Commission’s project management procedures
allow commissioners, the staff director, senior Commission staff, and
project team leaders to manage long-range projects that take a year or
longer to complete as well as time-critical projects that take several
months or weeks to complete.17 The Commission chairperson, who was
also chairperson in 1997, is of the opinion that Commission projects and
products in fiscal year 2002 and later were generally timelier than those
products discussed in our 1997 report and testimony.18

Table 1 summarizes the number of Commission products issued during
fiscal year 2002 by Commission office and by type of product.19 Appendix I
provides details about project names and product titles produced during
fiscal year 2002 by those offices that generate headquarters Commission
products that result from commissioner-approved projects: the Office of
Civil Rights Evaluation, the Office of General Counsel, and the Office of
the Staff Director (OSD). In addition, some fiscal year 2002 projects will
generate products in future years. Appendix II lists the number of



17
  Commissioners and Commission staff use the term “emerging issues” to describe projects
that are generally not identified during the Commission’s annual project planning cycle but
which the commissioners decide are high-priority projects as they emerge throughout the
year. Emerging issues projects generally take less calendar time to complete than do larger,
more complex projects included in the annual planning meeting, during which
commissioners decide which projects to undertake.
18
  In this review, we did not analyze the timeliness of Commission products for comparison
with the results of our 1997 review. As agreed with our requester, our current review
focused on the most recent fiscal year. Also, we examined during the current review a
more expansive number and variety of products than what we reported on in 1997, which
made comparisons between this review and our 1997 report methodologically
inappropriate.
19
  Of the 43 total products that resulted from these projects as of July 2003, 32 were issued
during fiscal year 2002 and were included in the scope of our review. We excluded from our
scope 3 products issued during fiscal year 2001 and 8 products issued or expected to be
issued during fiscal years 2003 or 2004.




Page 10                                        GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
                                           products, by type of product, issued or expected to be issued after fiscal
                                           year 2002 from projects that were ongoing during fiscal year 2002.

Table 1: Number of Products Issued by OCRE, OGC, and OSD during Fiscal Year 2002, by Type of Product

 Type of product                                         OCRE                       OGC                      OSD                      Total
 Background paper                                                                       1                                                 1
 Briefing*                                                    3                         4                                                 7
 Briefing paper                                               3                         4                                                 7
 Clearinghouse publication*                                   1                                                                           1
 Correspondence                                               2                                                                           2
 Executive summary                                                                      4                                                 4
 Hearing, consultation, and conference*                                                 2                                                 2
 Miscellaneous*                                               1                                                  1                        2
 OCRE memorandum                                              1                                                                           1
 OSD memorandum                                               1                                                                           1
 Staff report*                                                1                                                                           1
 State advisory committee report*                             1                                                                           1
 Statutory and interim reports*                               2                                                                           2
 Total                                                       16                       15                         1                       32
Source: U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

                                           Note: Product types marked with an asterisk appear in the Commission’s Catalog of Publications,
                                           September 2003. We ascertained other product types based on the document title or from information
                                           supplied by Commission officials.


Procedures Do Not Ensure                   Commission procedures do not provide for commissioners and senior
the Inclusion of Cost                      Commission staff to systematically receive project cost information—
Information                                primarily staff time charges—to help commissioners and senior staff plan
                                           and monitor projects. Commissioners continue to approve the majority of
                                           projects and products each year without having any specific information
                                           on how much the project will cost, or how much similar projects have cost
                                           in past years. Both federal government guidance and private sector project
                                           management specialists emphasize the importance of top-level reviews of
                                           actual performance. Feedback about actual project performance,
                                           including costs, is basic information essential for sound planning and
                                           allocation of scarce staff and other dollar resources. Without specific
                                           estimates of how much staff time will be spent and how much the project
                                           and its products will cost, Commission planning will continue to be
                                           conducted without key information. Commissioner approval of projects
                                           without key cost information may contribute to problems such as delayed




                                           Page 11                                           GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
products and lower-quality products if too many projects are undertaken
for staff to carry out without additional resources.

The Commission has taken action to limit the number of major projects
that it will approve during the Commission’s annual long-range planning
meeting at which commissioners decide which projects to undertake.
However, commissioners continue to approve new projects throughout
the year without any detailed feedback from the staff director about the
amount of time that staff is already committed to spend to complete
previously approved projects. Unless they periodically receive a
comprehensive picture of how much current projects have cost to date
and how much staff time has already been committed, commissioners will
continue to make decisions about how many and which future projects to
undertake, or which current projects and costs to adjust, without basic
information necessary for sound project planning.20

Without downplaying the value of cost information in project
management, commissioners have been divided over how much project
cost information they need. During our review, several commissioners
expressed concern, both to us and publicly at monthly Commission
meetings, that commissioners were not receiving sufficient information
about project costs. However, several other commissioners said that they
received a sufficient amount of information about the status of projects. In
March 2003, the commissioners did not pass a motion—the vote was tied
4-4—for the staff director to provide them with, among other things,
quarterly information about project costs that commissioners were not
receiving at that time. However, the commissioners reached a compromise
and passed a subsequent motion in April 2003 to receive that quarterly cost
information. Specifically, the motion requires commissioners to receive
information quarterly on cost by project and by office. A category of
information that was in the original motion that was not included in the
motion that passed includes projects’ travel costs.




20
  Our 1997 review also found that commissioners at that time did not receive information
on the costs of projects or the personnel working on projects. After a vote to approve a
project, commissioners were not aware of (1) those projects the staff director decides to
start; (2) when projects are actually started; (3) cost adjustments for projects; (4) time
frame changes; and (5) personnel changes, all of which can affect the timeliness and quality
of projects. See U.S. General Accounting Office, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights: Agency
Lacks Basic Management Controls, GAO/HEHS-97-125 (Washington, D.C.: July 8, 1997),
pp. 17-19.




Page 12                                        GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
                           Good project management principles dictate that cost information be
                           integrated in a timely manner into project management. As applied to the
                           Commission, cost information may be most useful if it is provided on a
                           monthly basis. During its monthly meetings, the commission discusses
                           whether or not to undertake emerging civil rights issues. These decisions
                           will be better informed if, for example, data on costs that are already being
                           experienced—or expected on other projects—be included in the monthly
                           discussions.

                           As of September 2003, commissioners had not begun to receive the agreed
                           upon information. Once the commissioners begin to receive the cost
                           information, it will be important to assess the extent that the information
                           is meeting their collective needs and responsibilities.


Procedures Do Not Ensure   Although the Commission has guidance on project management
Commissioner Input Once    procedures, we found that commissioners have limited involvement in the
Projects Have Been         management of commission projects once they have been approved. This
                           condition serves to significantly reduce the commissioners’ ability to lend
Approved                   their expertise to the development of Commission products that address
                           civil rights issues.

                           On a positive note, the Commission has a set of written instructions that
                           outline the procedures that should be followed to manage its projects.21
                           The instructions describe the general steps that should be taken in the
                           planning, implementation, and product preparation stages of projects
                           undertaken by the commission. For example, the instructions address
                           steps for planning projects at the front-end as well as legal review prior to
                           the publication of reports.

                           Nevertheless, the general nature of the written project management
                           guidance limits the involvement of commissioners in project management.
                           Specifically, the guidance does not specify the role that commissioners
                           play in the implementation and report preparation phases, nor does it
                           discuss the timing that commissioners should be involved throughout the
                           process. It is especially important to have clear guidance on commissioner
                           involvement because commissioners serve on a part-time basis and are not
                           headquartered in a central building. Clear guidance on the nature and



                           21
                            Administrative Manual, Administrative Instruction 1-6, National Office Program
                           Development and Implementation, January 24, 2003.




                           Page 13                                       GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
timing of commissioner involvement can help commissioners prepare
themselves to make substantive contributions to implement a project and
sharpen its conclusions and policy recommendations. In addition, clear
guidance can help commissioners balance their commission duties with
other professional duties and travel commitments.

While the guidance addresses the role of commissioners in the last stage of
the product preparation phase—final revision and approval prior to
official release—this guidance only covers 2 of the 15 types of products
produced by the Commission: statutory reports and clearinghouse
reports.22 In fiscal year 2002, 3 of the Commission’s 32 products were
either a statutory or a clearinghouse report. Put another way, the guidance
does not dictate that commissioners give final review and approval for 29
of the 32 products worked on in fiscal year 2002.23 The 13 product types
not covered by the guidance include, for example, briefings, briefing
papers, executive summaries, staff reports, and State Advisory Committee
reports.24 However, these reports address civil rights issues and as such,
they could benefit from review by commissioners, as appropriate, as they
are being developed.

Further evidence pointing to a lack of commissioner involvement in
project management is the very general nature of the monthly staff
reports—the main management tool currently used to keep commissioners
informed about the progress of projects. The monthly staff report is
prepared by the staff director and sent to commissioners in preparation
for the monthly Commission meetings. The report highlights the status of
selected on-going projects (the report may contain a summary of any of
the 15 product types). The staff director has the discretion to select the



22
  Clearinghouse reports are general purpose, informational reports that do not include
formal findings, conclusions and recommendations.
23
  Two of the 29 products were internal memoranda from senior Commission staff to the
staff director and were not intended for distribution to the public. Consequently, those
memoranda do not meet the Commission’s definition of a product intended for public
release and would not routinely be expected to be subject to commissioner review.
24
  The full list of 13 product types not covered by the written guidance include background
papers; briefings; briefing papers; briefing summaries; correspondence; executive
summaries; hearing, consultation, and conference transcripts (The Commission defines
these as “accurate transcripts of testimony at hearings” which the Commission periodically
holds at headquarters and other locations throughout the United States); internal
Commission staff memorandums; miscellaneous publications; project summaries; staff
analyses; staff reports; and State Advisory Committee reports.




Page 14                                        GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
projects to include in the monthly report. We reviewed the 11 monthly
reports that the staff director sent to the commissioners during fiscal year
2002 in preparation for the monthly Commission meetings and found that
information in those reports about the two-volume statutory report (and
other projects and reports) to be issued during the year was limited to
general descriptions of project status. For example, regarding the
Commission’s statutory report, commissioners were informed via the staff
director’s monthly reports that “progress on the project has slowed” or
“staff is working on an initial draft of the report” or “staff has nearly
completed a draft of the report.” These updates did not contain
information about the project’s costs or staff day usage to date, nor
potential findings or conclusions. Likewise, during the 4-month period that
the one clearinghouse project and report were being developed, only one
monthly report even mentioned that project, and none of the four monthly
staff reports made reference to the anticipated product or the anticipated
date of report issuance.

During our review, several commissioners told us that they are often
unaware of the status and the content of many of the written products that
result from approved projects until they are published or released by the
Commission to the public. Moreover, some commissioners expressed
dissatisfaction with the level of detail on project status contained in the
monthly report.

Some commissioners are increasingly concerned about their lack of
opportunity to review reports and other products drafted by Commission
staff before they are released to the public. These commissioners believe
that a lack of periodic commissioner input and review undermines the
opportunity for commissioners to help shape a report’s findings,
recommendations, and policy implications of civil rights issues. In June
and July 2003, several commissioners expressed their displeasure publicly
about this lack of involvement by voting against, or abstaining from,
acceptance of Commission draft products, in part because the
commissioners had not had the opportunity to provide input to those
projects or products. Other commissioners voted to accept the draft
reports without commenting on their opportunity, or lack thereof, to
provide input.




Page 15                                GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
                          The Commission on Civil Rights lacks sufficient management controls
Controls Over             over its contracting procedures. In fiscal year 2002, the Commission did
Commission’s              not follow proper procedures in awarding most of its 11 contracts. For
                          example, the Commission’s largest dollar contract—currently $156,000—is
Contracting               for media services and has been ongoing for over 3 years with the same
Procedures Are            vendor. According to Commission officials, key documentation on how the
                          contract was initially awarded was missing from contract files. Moreover,
Insufficient              Commission officials did not follow the legal requirements to obtain
                          competition for subsequent media services contracts. As a result, the
                          Commission did not have all of the information it should have had to
                          determine if the contract pricing was fair and reasonable. The Commission
                          also has inadequate controls over the administration of its contracts. For
                          example, information on specific tasks to be performed by vendors is
                          communicated orally, not in a performance based statement of work as
                          required by regulation. As a result, it is difficult for the Commission to
                          track vendors’ performance against an objective measure and ensure that
                          public funds are used in an effective manner.


Proper Procedures for     The Commission did not follow federal contracting regulations for any
Awarding Contracts Were   contracts initiated in fiscal year 2002 that were over $2,500.25 All but 4 of its
Not Followed              11 contracts were at or over this amount. When a government agency
                          purchases services, the contracting officer must follow certain procedures,
                          though these procedures vary slightly depending on the contracting
                          method. Using simplified acquisition procedures, the contracting officer
                          may select contractors using expedited evaluation and selection
                          procedures and is permitted to keep documentation to a minimum. The
                          agency still must, for contracts over $2,500, seek competition to the
                          maximum practical extent. If circumstances prevent competition, agencies
                          may award “sole-source” contracts, but are required to justify them in
                          writing.

                          A government agency may also issue orders against contracts that GSA
                          awards to multiple companies supplying comparable products and
                          services under its Federal Supply Schedule. The FAR and GSA procedures
                          require agencies to consider comparable products and services of multiple



                          25
                            According to the FAR, $2,500 is considered the “micro-purchase threshold” with certain
                          few exceptions. Micro-purchases may be awarded without soliciting competitive
                          quotations if the contracting officer or individual appointed in accordance with FAR 1.603-
                          3(b) considers the price to be reasonable.




                          Page 16                                        GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
vendors prior to issuing an order over $2,500.26 For service orders, the
agency must send a request for quotes (RFQ) to at least three Federal
Supply Schedule contractors based on an initial evaluation of catalogs and
price lists. The agency must evaluate the quotes based on factors identified
in the RFQ. GSA’s ordering procedures also state that the office ordering
the services is responsible for considering the level of effort and mix of
labor proposed to perform specific tasks and for making a determination
that the total price is fair and reasonable.

In fiscal year 2002, seven of the commission’s contracts were for amounts
over $2,500, and the Commission did not follow proper procedures for any
of them. For example, in fiscal year 2002, the Commission ordered its
media services from a contractor listed on the Federal Supply Schedule.
Instead of requesting quotes from other Schedule vendors, as required by
GSA’s special ordering procedures, the Commission merely selected the
same contractor to which it had made improper awards in previous years
using simplified acquisition procedures.

A factor that likely caused the Commission to not follow proper
contracting procedures is that the Commission does not have personnel
who are sufficiently qualified to conduct several of the required actions.
The Commission has only two officials authorized to enter into contracts:
the Acting Chief of the Administrative Services and Clearinghouse Division
and the staff director.27 However, both officials are operating with limited
awareness of proper federal contracting procedures.

By not following proper procedures, the Commission did not obtain the
benefits of competition and did not meet federal standards of conducting
business fairly and openly. For example, by not competing its media
services contract, and by using an incremental approach to obtaining
media services, the Commission did not make clear the fact that it would
have a recurring need for media services. Initially, in April 2000, the media



26
  In July 2000, GSA revised the ordering procedures for services. These “special ordering”
procedures now apply to an order for services that requires a statement of work.
27
  The FAR provides that unless specifically prohibited by another provision of law,
authority and responsibility to contract for authorized supplies and services are vested in
the agency head. The agency head may establish contracting activities and delegate broad
authority to manage the agency’s contracting functions to heads of such contracting
activities. At the Commission, the staff director, solely by virtue of his position as the
administrative head of the agency, is a designated contracting official who may also award
contracts and act as a contracting officer.




Page 17                                        GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
                            services contract was offered with a 90-day/$25,000 maximum. A series of
                            90-day, 60-day, and even 30-day contracts followed, none of which were
                            competed. The Commission’s relationship with this media services vendor
                            has evolved into what is now an annual award with a maximum value of
                            $156,000.28 The staff director could not document for us whether the
                            agency competed its media services contract initially in 2000,29 and told us
                            that it did not compete subsequent awards, including the last 2 years using
                            the Schedule. In effect, the Commission denied itself the opportunity to
                            choose from a potential pool of bidders because other vendors were likely
                            unaware of the contract, the contract’s potential value or both.


Contract Administration     The Commission lacks sufficient internal control over the administration
Lacks Sufficient Internal   of its contracts. Examples of internal control activities30 include
Control                     maintaining clear and prompt documentation on all transactions and other
                            significant events; evaluating contractor performance; and segregating key
                            duties and responsibilities among different people to reduce the risk of
                            error or fraud. However, these elements of good organizational
                            management are not evident in the Commission’s administration of its
                            contract activities. For example, the Commission has not met federal
                            requirements to establish and maintain proper contract files and to report
                            contract actions to the Federal Procurement Data Center (FPDC), just a
                            few of the numerous contract administration functions listed in the FAR.
                            As a result, the Commission is not promoting the transparency necessary



                            28
                             In an attempt to downplay the increasing dollar value of the Commission’s media services
                            contract, the staff director stated in his comments on a draft of this report that the fiscal
                            year 2003 total vendor fees related to its media services contract were less than $90,000.
                            We were not provided documentation to support of this dollar figure. For fiscal year 2002,
                            however, according to documentation from the Commission, total vendor fees related to its
                            media services contract were approximately $131,225 under a contract maximum of
                            $140,000.
                            29
                              No officials are currently employed at the Commission who originally awarded the initial
                            contract for media services. Current Commission officials could not provide us with
                            documentation to ensure that procedures had been properly followed in awarding that
                            contract. Subsequent contracts for continued media services were awarded to the
                            incumbent contractor.
                            30
                              Internal control activities are the policies, procedures, techniques, and mechanisms that
                            enforce management’s directives, such as the process of adhering to requirements for
                            budget development and execution. They help ensure that actions are taken to address
                            risks and are considered to be essential elements of good organizational management. See
                            U.S. General Accounting Office, Standards for Internal Control in the Federal
                            Government, GAO/AIMD-00-21.3.1 (Washington, D.C.: Nov. 1999).




                            Page 18                                        GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
                               to keep the Congress and others informed about the Commission’s
                               contracting activities.

Record-keeping and Reporting   According to federal regulations, an agency must establish and maintain
Standards Not Met              for a period of 5 years a computer file containing unclassified records of
                               all procurements exceeding $25,000.31 Agencies must be able to access
                               certain information from the computer file for each contract, such as the
                               reason why a non-competitive procurement procedure was used, or the
                               number of offers received in response to a solicitation. Agencies must
                               transmit this information to the FPDC, the government’s central repository
                               of statistical information on federal contracting that contains detailed
                               information on contract actions over $25,000 and summary data on
                               procurements of less than $25,000.32

                               The Commission has not followed federal regulations or established
                               internal control standards with regard to reporting transactions. According
                               to the Acting Chief of the Administrative Services and Clearinghouse
                               Division, and to officials at the FPDC, the Commission has not met federal
                               reporting requirements to the FPDC for at least the last 3 fiscal years. The
                               Acting Chief said that a lack of resources is the reason for its
                               noncompliance with this federal requirement. Moreover, the FPDC was
                               unaware that the Commission, which historically had not entered into
                               contracts over $25,000, now had contracts above that amount. FPDC
                               officials told us that when they contacted the Commission, officials there
                               told the FPDC that they were not able to submit the data because, for
                               example, of problems with its firewalls. In addition, Commission officials




                               31
                                FAR part 4.601.
                               32
                                 Executive departments and agencies are required to collect and report procurement data
                               quarterly to the FPDC. The FPDC provides data for Congress, the executive branch, the
                               private sector, and the public. The data are used to measure and assess the impact of
                               federal procurement on the nation’s economy, the extent to which small business firms and
                               small disadvantaged business firms are sharing in federal procurement, the impact of full
                               and open competition in the acquisition process, and other procurement policy purposes.




                               Page 19                                      GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
                                did not accept FPDC’s offer to come to FPDC’s offices and key in the
                                data.33

Little If Any Performance       According to federal regulations, agency requirements for service
Monitoring Being Done           contracts should be defined in a clear, concise performance-based
                                statement of work that enables the agency to ensure a contractor’s work
                                against measurable performance standards.34 Despite these regulations and
                                principles of good management, the Commission has not established a
                                system to monitor contractors’ performance, even for its contract that
                                exceeds $100,000. The Commission has no records that document its
                                decision-making on this contract. Lack of this basic, well-established
                                management control makes the Commission vulnerable to resource losses
                                due to waste or abuse.

Commissioner Participation in   An integral component of good organizational management is a strong
Contract Management Is          communication network between key decision-makers. To that end, it is
Minimal                         vital that information on key transactions be communicated among the
                                staff director, the commissioners and other key decision-makers. In
                                addition, internal control standards dictate that key duties and
                                responsibilities be divided or segregated among different people to reduce
                                the risk of error or fraud. This includes the separation of the
                                responsibilities for authorizing, processing, recording, and reviewing
                                transactions, and handling any related assets. No one individual should
                                control all key aspects of a transaction or event.

                                Due to the nature of the Commission’s operating environment, the staff
                                director does not provide information on procurements to the
                                commissioners. According to the chairperson of the Commission,
                                contracting is one of the duties that the Commission has delegated to the
                                staff director. In fact, at public Commission meetings, when


                                33
                                  At the end of our review, the Commission provided us several documents that were
                                purportedly submitted to the FPDC. However, the records were not consistent with FPDC
                                documents. Specifically, the Commission sent us several completed summary contract
                                action reports (standard forms 281, used to report data to the FPDC), showing contract
                                data for selected quarters of fiscal years 2000-2003. According to the FPDC’s Federal
                                Procurement Reports for fiscal years 2000-2002, the Commission did not report any data in
                                fiscal years 2000 and 2002 and only submitted first quarter data for fiscal year 2001.
                                Moreover, the Commission’s standard forms 281 covering the first three quarters of fiscal
                                year 2003 are all dated August 11, 2003. According to FPDC, new data from the
                                Commission regarding fiscal years 2002 and 2003 contracting activity were received on
                                September 26, 2003.
                                34
                                 FAR part 37.602.




                                Page 20                                       GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
                        commissioners raised questions concerning contracting activities and
                        sought information on contract cost and vendor performance, the
                        chairperson asserted that contracting is not an area with which
                        commissioners should be concerned. Moreover, a recent motion for
                        commissioners to, among other things, be provided with cost and status
                        information on contracts and other items failed to pass. Commissioners
                        reached a compromise and passed a subsequent motion; however, it did
                        not include the provision to receive information on contracts. Although
                        the commissioners are charged with setting the policy direction of the
                        agency, the Chairperson told us that the decision to contract out for a
                        service is not a policy decision. She told us that the decision for the
                        Commission to receive a certain service is a policy decision, but whether
                        or not to perform that function in-house or contract out for it, is not. Since
                        the contracting function is delegated to the staff director, it is her position
                        that the commissioners need not know any details, unless there is an
                        allegation of fraud, waste, or abuse on the staff director’s part. For the
                        Commission’s largest contract, however, only the staff director has
                        knowledge of what is being done, why it is being done and how it is being
                        done. The Acting Chief of the Administrative Services and Clearinghouse
                        Division is not involved because of the dollar limit on her contracting
                        authority. Without greater transparency, the current operating
                        environment has no mechanism to elevate concerns about contractual
                        impropriety to the Commission.


                        The Commission’s fiscal activities have not been independently audited in
No Independent          at least 12 years. As noted in our 1997 report, the Commission is not
Financial Audits Have   required by statute to have an Inspector General, which could
                        independently and objectively perform financial audits within the agency.
Been Conducted in       In addition, for the fiscal year 2002 audit cycle, the Commission received a
Recent Years            waiver from the federal requirement that its financial statements be
                        independently audited.35 The Commission submitted a request to have the
                        requirement waived for both the fiscal year 2003 and 2004 audit cycles,
                        citing a stable budget and high costs incurred through the agency’s




                        35
                          Prior to November 2002, federal law did not require the Commission on Civil Rights to
                        prepare annual financial statements or have them independently audited. The
                        Accountability of Tax Dollars Act of 2002 (Pub. L. No. 107-289, 116 Stat. 2049) requires the
                        Commission and other executive agencies, not previously required to do so by another
                        statute, to begin submitting annual audited financial statements to Congress and OMB.




                        Page 21                                         GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
conversion to a new accounting system. OMB granted the waiver for fiscal
year 2003, but denied the request for the fiscal year 2004 cycle.36

In addition to this lack of independent financial oversight, the
Commission’s current financial situation is not transparent within the
agency. The majority of the agency’s budget-related information is
centralized, with only the staff director and the chief of the Budget and
Finance Division having a detailed knowledge of the Commission’s
financial status. However, both the body of the commissioners, which
heads the organization, and senior Commission officials, who are
responsible for planning and carrying out Commission projects, only know
what is reported to them by the staff director. On the basis of our
interviews with commissioners and other Commission officials, we found
that information on costs is limited. As a result of the centralized nature of
the Commission’s financial operations, financial oversight is structured in
a way that precludes appropriate checks and balances.

Moreover, the Commission has in place a policy that discourages
individual commissioners and their special assistants from making
inquiries of any nature to Commission staff and to direct all inquiries to
staff through the staff director.37 The policy dictates that commissioners
not make direct contact with staff but work through the staff director to
exchange information with staff and vice-versa. According to Commission
documentation, this policy is meant to ensure that requests are carried out
and to avoid confusion and difficult or embarrassing situations between
staff and commissioners. One memo we saw even stated that violations of
this policy could result in appropriate disciplinary action. Another stated
that circumventing the staff director can only create confusion and
disorder within the agency. According to some commissioners we spoke
with, as well as senior Commission managers, this policy stifles
communication and productivity within the agency and creates an


36
  OMB waived the fiscal year 2002 requirement for all covered agencies that had not
prepared audited financial statements in the past, including the Commission, pursuant to a
provision allowing the OMB Director to grant such a waiver for the first 2 fiscal years after
the law’s enactment. Additionally, the law permits the OMB Director to exempt a covered
agency from the requirement in any given fiscal year, if its budget in the fiscal year does not
exceed $25 million and if the Director determines that an audited financial statement is not
warranted due to an absence of risks associated with the agency’s operations,
demonstrated performance, or other relevant factors.
37
 This policy likewise discourages Commission staff from contacting commissioners or
each commissioner’s special assistant, instead directing all inquiries through the staff
director.




Page 22                                         GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
environment of uneasiness.38 In addition, while some commissioners
believe it is their fiscal duty to oversee the financial activities of the
Commission and want complete financial information, others do not and
cite their part-time status as the reason why they do not seek more
information on financial activities. The commissioners who have the latter
view believe that the fiscal responsibility of the agency lies with the staff
director.

In the absence of independent financial oversight, what is known about
the Commission’s financial status suggests an austere financial picture.
The staff director has characterized the Commission’s financial condition
in public meetings as “challenging.” In fact, although the Commission’s
budget has remained at essentially the same level for about the last 10
years, it has incurred several new costs associated with operations. For
example, the Commission recently converted its accounting and payment
processing system from the National Finance Center (NFC) to the
Department of Treasury’s Bureau of the Public Debt at a cost to the
Commission of almost $300,000.39 In addition, Commission officials cited
an increase of more than $130,000 in rent for the Commission’s
headquarters and field offices over the past year. Moreover, the
Commission’s financial condition has affected its operations. For example,
the Commission ordered a moratorium, citing funding limitations, on all
previously authorized and new travel by the agency’s regional staff or
State Advisory Committee members between late March 2003 and the end
of July 2003. In addition, the Commission’s financial status has left it
unable to reduce its high staff vacancy rate, which now stands at 20
percent.40




38
 Other commissioners we spoke with, however, believed the policy was implemented to
allow staff to better manage its work requirements.
39
  This figure includes a one-time fee of approximately $93,000. Annual costs are nearly
$200,000 compared with $54,000 under NFC. Officials at the Commission told us that the
Commission had to convert its accounting and payment processing system as they could no
longer use NFC, due to a decision by NFC to no longer offer accounting and payment
processing services to non-USDA agencies.
40
  The Commission had no unfilled permanent positions at the end of fiscal year 1997 and
had two vacancies at the end of fiscal 1998. The Commission had 10 unfilled positions at
the end of fiscal year 1999, 9 at the end of fiscal year 2000, and 18 at the end of fiscal years
2001 and 2002. Although the Commission reports 3 vacancies in its Public Affairs Unit,
Commission officials have outsourced the agency’s public affairs function.




Page 23                                           GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
                While the Commission has taken steps in recent years to improve its
Conclusions 
   operations, it nevertheless continues to operate in a manner not fully
                consistent with sound management principles. These principles dictate
                that key decision makers receive timely information on project cost and
                have a vehicle throughout the project process to communicate their ideas
                and expertise. We recognize that commissioners should soon be receiving
                more information on project costs than had been previously received.
                While it remains to be decided whether the amount and timing of this
                information will meet the Commission’s needs, the challenge now facing
                commissioners is to partner toward the strategic use of cost information.
                In addition, the current level of commissioner involvement in the reporting
                phase of Commission products does not ensure that products are
                reflecting the full and wide-ranging expertise of the commissioners and as
                such, the potential impact of Commission products can be limited. This
                outcome can undermine the important mission of the Commission—to
                help inform and guide the nation on civil rights issues

                The Commission’s procurement of services is not being conducted in
                accordance with established internal control standards or federal
                regulations. We have long held that an agency’s internal control activities
                are an integral part of its planning, implementing, reviewing, and
                accountability for stewardship of government resources and achieving
                effective results. Without the proper internal controls, there is little public
                assurance that funds are being spent in a proper and effective manner. As
                a result of the Commission’s weak contract management operations, the
                Commission does not have all of the information it should have to
                determine that the contracts it is entering into are reasonable and offer the
                best value to the government.

                Although the dollar amount involved in its contracting activities represents
                a small percentage of its overall appropriation, such expenditures are
                growing. But regardless of the amount spent on contracting, there is a
                need for the Commission to take steps now to ensure that current and
                future contract actions are performed in compliance with established
                regulations. If the Commission does not adhere to these regulations, then
                transparency cannot be established and no assurance can be given to the
                public that the Commission’s activities are leading to the proper and
                efficient use of public funds.

                The Commission has not had an independent audit of its financial
                statements in recent years. The requirement for the Commission to
                prepare and submit an audited financial statement, included in the
                Accountability of Tax Dollars Act of 2002, is an important step to


                Page 24                                 GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
                         strengthening its financial and performance reporting. However, these
                         benefits have yet to be realized. Given the Commission’s limited financial
                         management controls and current budget situation, the lack of external
                         oversightparticularly in terms of financial audits—may make the
                         Commission vulnerable to resource losses due to waste, mismanagement
                         or abuse. Although funding an independent audit could represent a
                         significant new cost to the Commission, these audits are essential to the
                         sound stewardship of federal funds. Our longstanding position has been
                         that the preparation and audit of financial statements increase
                         accountability and transparency and are important tools in the
                         development of reliable, timely, and useful financial information for day-
                         to-day management and oversight. Preparing audited financial statements
                         also leads to improvements in internal control and financial management
                         systems.


                         To further the Commission’s efforts to better plan and monitor project
Recommendations 
        activities, we recommend that the Commission

                    •	   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; and

                    •	   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.

                         To ensure proper contracting activities at the Commission, we recommend
                         that the Commission

                    •	   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.




                         Page 25                                GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
                            While the Commission has received waivers from preparing and
                            submitting audited financial statements for fiscal years 2002 and 2003, we
                            recommend that the Commission

                       •	   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.


                            The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights provided us with two sets of
Agency Comments 
           comments on a draft of this report. We received comments from four
and Our Evaluation 
        commissioners and from the Commission’s Office of the Staff Director.
                            Commissioners Kirsanow, Redenbaugh, Thernstrom, and Braceras
                            concurred with our conclusions and recommendations on the
                            management practices at the Commission. Their comments are
                            reproduced in their entirety in appendix III. We did not receive comments
                            from the remaining four commissioners, who include both the chairperson
                            and the vice-chair of the Commission.

                            In comments from the Office of the Staff Director, the staff director
                            pointed out that the Commission is committed to ensuring that its
                            operations are well maintained and will consider implementing whatever
                            recommendations and suggestions that appear in the final report.
                            However, the staff director believed that many of the findings were
                            inaccurate and that aspects of the draft report contained errors,
                            unsubstantiated allegations, and misinterpretations. For example, the staff
                            director disagreed with our finding that the Commission lacks sufficient
                            management controls over its contracting procedures and concluded the
                            Commission’s overall fundamental contract practices are sound. Similarly,
                            he disagreed with our findings concerning weaknesses in project and
                            financial oversight. After carefully reviewing his concerns, we continue to
                            believe that our conclusions and recommendations are well founded. The
                            staff director’s detailed comments and our responses to them are
                            contained in appendix IV. Finally, the staff director also provided a




                            Page 26                                GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
number of technical comments and clarifications, which we incorporated,
as appropriate.


As arranged with your office, unless you announce its contents earlier, we 

plan no further distribution of this report until 30 days after its issue date. 

At that time, we will provide copies of this report to interested 

congressional committees. We are also sending copies to the 

commissioners and the staff director, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. We 

will also make copies available to others upon request. In addition, the 

report will be available at no charge on GAO’s Web site at 

http://www.gao.gov. 


Please contact me on (202) 512-7215 or Brett Fallavollita on (202) 512-8507 

if you or your staff have any questions about this report. Other contact and 

staff acknowledgments are listed in appendix V.


Sincerely yours, 





Robert E. Robertson, 

Director, Education, Workforce, and

 Income Security Issues 





Page 27                                  GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
Appendix I: Scope and Methodology 



              During our review of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights’ activities, we
              focused on the management of individual projects, as we had done during
              our 1997 review and examined them in the context of broader
              management issues at the Commission. For example, to analyze the
              Commission’s expenditures on projects since 1997 in the context of both
              the project spending discussed in our 1997 report as well as in comparison
              with the Commission’s most recent budget request, we reviewed the
              Commission’s annual Request for Appropriation for fiscal years 1999
              through 2004, which provided data on how the Commission actually spent
              its appropriations for fiscal years 1997 through 2002. We noted that the
              Commission’s fiscal year 2004 Request for Appropriation requests a
              significant increase in funding, from $9 million in fiscal year 2002 to $15
              million in fiscal year 2004. Consequently, we not only focused on how well
              the Commission currently manages its projects, but also considered the
              implications of potentially significant increases in project and product
              spending and the human resources need to properly manage such
              increases.

              We used a combination of Office of Management and Budget (OMB),
              private sector, and our own guidance as criteria to identify key elements of
              good project management. These criteria included U.S. General
              Accounting Office, Standards for Internal Control in the Federal
              Government, GAO/AIMD-00-21.3.1 (Washington, D.C.: Nov. 1999);
              Preparation and Submission of Budget Estimates (2002) (OMB Circular
              No. A-11, Part 2); Project Management Scalable Methodology Guide (
              1997, James R. Chapman); A Guide to the Project Management Body of
              Knowledge (PMBOK Guide)—2000 Edition (The Project Management
              Institute, Sept. 2003); and Project Management—Conventional Project
              Management (Northern Institute of Technology, Hamburg, Mar. 2002). Our
              standards for internal control list top-level review of actual performance
              (e.g., commissioner review of actual project cost) as a key control activity.
              OMB Circular No. A-11 emphasizes the importance of managing financial
              assets.

              To supplement the general guidance on good project management
              principles described in OMB’s and our guidance to agencies, we identified
              several private sector principles, practices, and techniques for good
              project management at the individual project level. For example, the
              Project Management Scalable Methodology Guide ( 1997, James R.
              Chapman) and the Project Management Institute’s A Guide to the Project
              Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide)—2000 Edition
              identify project management principles for small, straightforward projects
              as well as a best practices approach for large, complex projects. According


              Page 28                                GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
Appendix I: Scope and Methodology




to these principles, regardless of project size or degree of risk, sound
project cost management calls for comparisons between project plans and
actual project performance—even for projects with minor levels of
investment and low risk.

We reviewed the most recent complete fiscal year’s project activities at the
time of our review (fiscal year 2002) and identified 22 projects and 43
products (briefings, executive summaries, internal memorandums, reports,
etc.) that resulted from those projects. Of the 43 total products that
resulted from these projects as of July 2003, we included in our review the
32 issued during fiscal year 2002. We excluded 3 products issued during
fiscal year 2001 and 8 products issued or expected to be issued during
fiscal years 2003 or 2004.

Table 2 provides details about project names and product titles produced
during fiscal year 2002 by those offices that generate headquarters
Commission products that result from commissioner-approved projects:
the Office of Civil Rights Evaluation (OCRE), the Office of General
Counsel (OGC), and the Office of the Staff Director (OSD). The OSD
product resulted from a project initiated by the staff director rather than
from the commissioners. Table 2 also includes a State Advisory Committee
report from Alaska because OCRE staff assisted in preparing the report.
The table excludes an Arizona State Advisory Committee briefing and
State Advisory Committee reports from Iowa and Pennsylvania in 2002
because OCRE staff were not involved in preparing the briefing or those
reports. Some fiscal year 2002 projects will generate products in future
years. (See app. II.)




Page 29                                GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
                                             Appendix I: Scope and Methodology




Table 2: OGC, OCRE, and OSD Projects and Products, Fiscal Year 2002

GAO-assigned                                                    Products and GAO-assigned product numbers (43
project                                                         total products, 32 products in FY 2002)
number       Project title                                      (Bold = FY 2002 = within GAO Scope)                    Project cost
      a
OGC
1               Crossing Borders                                1. Briefing December 8, 2000                               $50,290
                                                                2. Executive Summary December 8, 2000: “Crossing
                                                                Borders: An Examination of Civil Rights Issues
                                                                Raised by Current Immigration Laws, Policies, and
                                                                Practices”
2               Boundaries of Justice                           3. Briefing October 12, 2001
                                                                4. Executive Summary October 12, 2001: “Briefing
                                                                on Boundaries of Justice: Immigration Policies Post-
                                                                September 11th”
                                                                5. Briefing June 21, 2002
                                                                6. Executive Summary June 21, 2002: “Briefing on
                                                                Haitian Asylum Seekers and U.S. Immigration Policy”
                                                                (Miami, Florida)
1+2             Crossing Borders/Boundaries of Justice 	        7. Project Summary January 2003: “Crossing
                                                                Borders: The Administration of Justice and Civil
                                                                Rights Protections in the Immigration and Asylum
                                                                Context”
3               Florida Election Reform                         8. Briefing June 2002                                     $109,329
                                                                9. Briefing Paper June 13, 2002: “Voting Rights in
                                                                Florida 2002: The Impact of the Commission’s Report
                                                                and the Florida Election Reform Act of 2001”
                                                                10. Executive Summary August 2002: “Voting
                                                                Rights in Florida 2002”
4               Environmental Justice                           11. Hearing January 2002                                  $234,926
                                                                12. Briefing Paper January 4, 2002: “Environmental
                                                                Justice Hearing”
                                                                13. Hearing February 2002
                                                                14. Briefing Paper February 8, 2002: “Environmental
                                                                Justice Hearing”
5               Education Accountability 	                      15. Briefing Paper January 30, 2003: “Briefing Paper      $162,570
                                                                for Education Accountability, February 6, 2003”
                                                                16. Briefing February 6, 2003
                                                                17. Executive Summary June 2003: “Education
                                                                Accountability and High-Stakes Testing in North
                                                                Carolina”
6               Native American Project Health Careb                                                                                 b




                                             Page 30                                     GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
                                            Appendix I: Scope and Methodology




GAO-assigned                                                   Products and GAO-assigned product numbers (43
project                                                        total products, 32 products in FY 2002)
number       Project title                                     (Bold = FY 2002 = within GAO Scope)                    Project cost
                                    c                                                                                               c
7              Racial Privacy Act                              18. Briefing May 17, 2002
                                                               19. Briefing Paper May 2002: “Enforcement Without
                                                               Evidence? Consequences of Government Race Data
                                                               Collection Bans on Civil Rights”
                                                               20. Executive Summary July 2002: “Briefing on the
                                                               Consequences of Government Race Data Collection
                                                               Bans on Civil Rights”
8              USA Patriot Act/Homeland Security               21. Background Paper July 2002: “Protecting Civil          $17,864
               (Revisiting Anti-Terrorism Act)                 Liberties in the New Homeland Security Department”
9              Supreme Court Review                            22. Staff Analysis October 2002: “Supreme Court             $6,700
                                                               Civil Rights and Related Cases: The 2001 – 2002
                                                               Term”
OCRE
10             Ten-Year Check-Up Volume 1                      23. Statutory Report September 2002: “Ten-Year            $310,542
                                                               Check-Up: Have Federal Agencies Responded to
                                                               Civil Rights Recommendations? Volume I: A Blueprint
                                                               for Civil Rights Enforcement”
11             Ten-Year Check-Up Volume 2	                     24. Statutory Report September 2002: “Ten-Year
                                                               Check-Up: Have Federal Agencies Responded to
                                                               Civil Rights Recommendations? Volume II: An
                                                               Evaluation of the Departments of Justice, Labor, and
                                                               Transportation”
12             Beyond Percentage Plans 	                       25. Staff Report November 2002: “Beyond                  $121, 895
                                                               Percentage Plans: The Challenge of Equal
                                                               Opportunity in Higher Education”
13             Voting Rights Procedures Nationwide             26. Briefing March 9, 2001: “Voting Rights Overview”        $9,337
                                                               27. Staff Report November 2001: “Election Reform:
                                                               An Analysis of Proposals and the Commission’s
                                                               Recommendations for Improving America’s Election
                                                               System”
14             Post Terrorism Initiatives                      28. OSD Memorandum December 6, 2001: “Recent               $15,532
                                                               Civil Rights Developments Relating to Anti-Terrorism
                                                               Efforts”
15             Post Terrorism Initiatives Update               29. OCRE Memorandum July 11, 2002: “Update on
                                                               December 2001 Memorandum on Post-9/11 Civil
                                                               Rights Issues”
16             Bioterrorism                                    30. Briefing March 8, 2002
                                                               31. Briefing Paper March 8, 2002: “Bioterrorism and
                                                               Health Care Disparities”
17             The Individuals with Disabilities Education     32. Briefing April 12, 2002                                $33,294
               Act Reauthorization
                                                               33. Briefing Paper April 12, 2002: “Making A Good
                                                               IDEA Better: The Reauthorization of the Individuals
                                                               with Disabilities Education Act”




                                            Page 31                                     GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
                                                      Appendix I: Scope and Methodology




 GAO-assigned                                                                 Products and GAO-assigned product numbers (43
 project                                                                      total products, 32 products in FY 2002)
 number       Project title                                                   (Bold = FY 2002 = within GAO Scope)                               Project cost
                                                                              34. Correspondence May 17, 2002
                                                                              35. Correspondence January 8, 2003
 18                         Welfare Reauthorization                           36. Briefing July19, 2002
                                                                              37. Briefing Paper July 2002: “Comparison and
                                                                              Analysis of the 1996 Welfare Reform Bill and 2002
                                                                              Proposals”
                                                                              38. Miscellaneous (A Statement of the U.S.
                                                                              Commission on Civil Rights) August 2002: “ A New
                                                                              Paradigm for Welfare Reform: The Need for Civil
                                                                              Rights Enforcement”
                                                                              39. Correspondence August 2002
                                                                       d                                                                                      d
 19                         Alaska State Advisory Committee Report            40. State Advisory Committee Report April 2002:
                                                                              “Racism’s Frontier: The Untold Story of Discrimination
                                                                              and Division in Alaska”
 20                         Funding Civil Rights Enforcement (2002)e          41. Clearinghouse Publication April 2002: “Funding                              e


                                                                              Federal Civil Rights Enforcement: 2000–2003”
                                                                                                                                                                  f
 21                         Federal Funding of Native American                42. Report July 2003: “A Quiet Crisis: Federal
                            Programs                                          Funding and Unmet Needs in Indian Country”
 OSD
                                                                                                                                                              g
 22                         Anniversary Update on Commission Activities 43. Miscellaneous September 2002: “Anniversary
                                                   g
                            Related to September 11                     Update on Commission Activities Related to
                                                                        September 11”
 Total                      22                                                43 (32 in FY 2002)                                                 $1,072,279h
Source: Commission staff.
                                                      a
                                                       This list of OGC products does not reflect that OGC also produces internal briefing books for the
                                                      commissioners in connection with hearings and briefings. OGC briefing books include a briefing or
                                                      background paper; briefing or hearing agenda; witness lists with biographical information; copies of
                                                      reports or studies conducted by each witness that are relevant to the issues presented; an
                                                      explanation of the purpose and scope of the witness panels; relevant federal and state statutes; and
                                                      other information deemed necessary for understanding the subject matter being presented during the
                                                      hearing or briefing. Briefing books are prepared for commissioner use only, may contain privileged
                                                      material, and are not made available to the public.
                                                      b
                                                       The Commission originally approved a project titled Native American Access to Justice for fiscal year
                                                      2001. The project was postponed until fiscal year 2002 due to emerging issues and other project
                                                      work. During fiscal year 2002, the project was again postponed due to the Environmental Justice and
                                                      the Education Accountability projects being given higher priority and for additional commissioner
                                                      guidance to staff about the nature and scope of further Native American project work. The
                                                      Commission terminated the access to justice project in November 2002, and in January 2003
                                                      changed the focus of the Native American project from administration of justice to health care.
                                                      According to the staff director, there were no costs associated with either the access to justice project
                                                      or the health care project during fiscal year 2002.




                                                      Page 32                                               GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
Appendix I: Scope and Methodology




c
 According to the staff director, the work performed for the Racial Privacy Act briefing and summary
was charged under a general legal code and, therefore, there were no specific cost data for this
activity. The OGC deputy general counsel told us that the practice of using a general legal code
sometimes occurs when staff perform general or miscellaneous legal work of short duration that
needs to be completed within brief time frames. The deputy explained that legal work associated with
most projects approved by the Commission is charged to the specific individual code established for
each project assigned to the General Counsel’ s office.
d
 According to the staff director, the costs associated with OCRE’s work on the Alaska State Advisory
Committee Report were not tracked by office but were captured to include all State Advisory
Committee expenses associated with this project. However, the staff director did not provide us with a
total cost figure for this project or with the proportion of total costs that were spent by headquarters
staff and by the region. If the Commission’s project cost accounting system is to be considered
accurate and complete, it should be able to account for the total costs associated with this type of
field-headquarters collaborative effort product.
e
 According to the staff director, in fiscal year 2002 the Funding Civil Rights Enforcement project was
tracked by OCRE as a monitoring activity, and a separate code for that project has been established
since that time.
f
The Commission approved an OCRE Native American project in December 2001. OCRE began work
on this project in September 2002.
g
 The project team leader told us that his time associated with the OSD’s work on the anniversary
update project was not charged to a separate code established for that report, but rather was charged
to a general code that includes many similar types of relatively short-term efforts. This project was
initiated by the staff director rather than by the commissioners.
h
    Excludes costs for those projects and products described in notes b through g.




Page 33                                                GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
Appendix II: Products Issued or Expected to
Be Issued after Fiscal Year 2002

              This appendix lists the number of products, by type of product, issued or
              expected to be issued after fiscal year 2002 from projects that were
              ongoing during fiscal year 2002. (See app. I.)

              Table 3: Number of Products Issued or Expected to Be Issued after Fiscal Year 2002
              by OCRE and OGC from Projects That Were Ongoing during Fiscal Year 2002, by
              Type of Product

                  Type of product                              OCRE                      OGC                     Total
                           a
                  Briefing                                                                   1                           1
                  Correspondenceb                  1 (January 2003)                                                      1
                  Executive
                           a
                  summary                                                                    1                           1
                             c
                  Hearing                                                        1 (FY 2004)                             1
                                                                                              d
                  Project summary                                         1 (January 2003)                               1
                                                                                              a
                  Report                                                        1 (FY 2004)
                                                      1 (July 2003)e            1 (FY 2004)c                             3
                  Staff analysis                                           1 (October 2002)f                             1
                                                                     g
                  Staff report                 1 (November 2002)                                                         1
                  Total                                              3                       7                      10
              Source: Commission staff.
              a
              Education Accountability project briefing February 2003, executive summary May 2003, and report
              due fiscal year 2004.
              b
                  The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Reauthorization.
              c
                  Native American Project Health Care hearing (or briefing) and report projected for fiscal year 2004.
              d
              Crossing Borders: The Administration of Justice and Civil Rights Protections in the Immigration and
              Asylum Context.
              e
                  A Quiet Crisis: Federal Funding and Unmet Needs in Indian Country.
              f
                  Supreme Court Civil Rights and Related Cases: The 2001 – 2002 Term.
              g
                  Beyond Percentage Plans: The Challenge of Equal Opportunity in Higher Education.




              Page 34                                                 GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
Appendix III: Comments from Four
Commissioners




             Page 35        GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
Appendix III: Comments from Four
Commissioners




Page 36                            GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
Appendix III: Comments from Four
Commissioners




Page 37                            GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
Appendix III: Comments from Four
Commissioners




Page 38                            GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
Appendix III: Comments from Four
Commissioners




Page 39                            GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
Appendix IV: Comments from the
Commission’s Staff Director

Note: GAO comments
supplementing those in
the report text appear at
the end of this appendix.




                            Page 40   GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
                 Appendix IV: Comments from the Commission’s Staff Director




See comment 1.


See comment 2.


See comment 3.




See comment 4.




                 Page 41                                     GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
                 Appendix IV: Comments from the Commission’s Staff Director




See comment 5.




See comment 6.


See comment 7.




See comment 8.



See comment 9.




                 Page 42                                     GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
                  Appendix IV: Comments from the Commission’s Staff Director




See comment 10.

See comment 11.

See comment 12.




                  Page 43                                     GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
                  Appendix IV: Comments from the Commission’s Staff Director




See comment 13.




See comment 14.




See comment 15.

See comment 16.

See comment 17.




                  Page 44                                     GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
                  Appendix IV: Comments from the Commission’s Staff Director




See comment 18.




See comment 19.




                  Page 45                                     GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
                  Appendix IV: Comments from the Commission’s Staff Director




See comment 20.



See comment 21.



See comment 22.




See comment 23.




See comment 24.




                  Page 46                                     GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
                  Appendix IV: Comments from the Commission’s Staff Director




See comment 25.




See comment 26.




See comment 27.




                  Page 47                                     GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
                  Appendix IV: Comments from the Commission’s Staff Director




See comment 28.




See comment 30.




See comment 31.



See comment 32.




See comment 29.




                  Page 48                                     GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
                  Appendix IV: Comments from the Commission’s Staff Director




See comment 33.




See comment 34.




See comment 35.




                  Page 49                                     GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
Appendix IV: Comments from the Commission’s Staff Director




Page 50                                     GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
               Appendix IV: Comments from the
               Commission’s Staff Director




               1. 	 Our draft report clearly indicates that we found deficiencies in the
GAO Comments        project management practices at the Commission. We focused largely
                    on the role of the Commissioners because they comprise the
                    Commission which, under the applicable statute, has ultimate
                    responsibility in providing reports to Congress and the President, and
                    carrying out other statutory responsibilities.

               2. 	 We do not concur with the staff director’s comment that the
                    Commission has rejected the desirability of Commissioners shaping
                    the findings and recommendations of Commission projects.
                    Commission staff play an important role in running projects and
                    helping produce reports, but their involvement does not diminish the
                    important role that commissioners can and should play in shaping
                    reports on civil rights issues.

               3. 	 We disagree that our draft failed to acknowledge the Commissioners’
                    role in helping scope projects. The draft indicates that Commissioners
                    have some involvement, albeit limited, in the planning process. Our
                    basic point remains: procedures do not provide for systematic
                    commissioner input throughout projects and in practice,
                    commissioners do not always have the opportunity to review many of
                    the reports and other products drafted by the staff before they are
                    released to the public.

               4. 	 We believe that the draft report accurately portrays the amount of
                    information provided to commissioners and project managers about
                    ongoing projects. We based our assessment on the (limited)
                    information that has been provided to commissioners and project
                    managers in the recent past. Project managers told us that, during
                    fiscal years 2002 and 2003 (as of August), they were not regularly
                    receiving project cost data and staff hour information. Additionally, the
                    draft recognized that arrangements have recently been made to
                    provide additional information to commissioners. As we noted in a
                    draft recommendation, the efficacy of this action will need to be
                    monitored. For example, the staff director’s first project cost report on
                    September 30, 2003, in response to the commissioners’ April 2003 vote
                    for quarterly cost information, was incomplete because it did not
                    contain cost information for at least two projects that had been
                    regularly reported in monthly staff director reports during fiscal year
                    2003.

               5. 	 In our discussions with Commission officials subsequent to the
                    December 18, 2002, letter, we discussed in further detail the scope of
                    our review. We indicated that our review would primarily focus on
                    current management operations and not entail a specific point-by-point


               Page 51                                  GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
Appendix IV: Comments from the
Commission’s Staff Director




    assessment of the Commission’s implementation of our past
    recommendations. Nevertheless, during our review, we learned that
    the Commission had made a number of improvements since our 1997
    review. Our draft report discusses these improvements. However, our
    review was not intended to evaluate either the improvement in
    timeliness or the quality of Commission products since our 1997
    review. Notably, Commissioners Kirsanow, Redenbaugh, and
    Thernstrom expressed concern in their written response to our report
    that although we did not include an assessment of the quality of
    Commission products, they found that “reports lack the substantive
    and methodological rigor worthy of the Commission’s history and
    seal.” The staff director may wish to pursue the commissioners’
    comments in further detail.

6. As noted above, our report includes this recent development.

7. 	 The staff director believes that our sentence in the draft stating that
     the report contains recommendations for improving Commission
     operations should be deleted or at least modified to reflect that
     recommendations are directed at commissioners and not staff offices.
     We do not believe that a change is warranted. The implementation of
     our recommendations will clearly involve the commissioners, the staff
     director, and officials throughout the agency.

8. 	 The Commission’s responsibilities are described in the applicable
     statute. See 42 U.S.C. 1975a. We have qualified our description of the
     responsibilities we list in our report.

9. 	 Our draft report noted that improvements in certain project
     management procedures have been made.

10. We believe that the staff director’s comment that project milestone
    dates are routinely provided to commissioners in monthly reports from
    the staff director is an overstatement. Our draft report noted that,
    during fiscal year 2002, the staff director’s monthly reports to the
    commissioners in preparation for their monthly meetings did not
    contain a comprehensive list of project milestone dates for all ongoing
    projects. Furthermore, fiscal year 2003 staff director reports to the
    commissioners generally did not list all ongoing projects and did not
    include estimated product issuance dates or project completion dates
    for most projects. This information was maintained and routinely
    updated when warranted by OCRE and OGC project managers for
    project planning, management and monitoring purposes but was not
    reported in the staff director’s monthly reports to the commissioners.



Page 52                                 GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
Appendix IV: Comments from the
Commission’s Staff Director




11. As we note in comment 5, our review was not intended to evaluate the
    quality of Commission products.

12. We shared a draft of tables 1 and 2 with the staff director and other
    senior staff before we sent the draft report to the Commission. The
    officials indicated that the tables were generally accurate.
    Nevertheless, we made technical corrections, as appropriate, in areas
    clarified by the Commission.

13. The purpose of the table in which the footnote in question appears is
    to provide details about the projects produced by those offices that
    generate headquarters products. The footnote intends to inform the
    reader about an OGC internal product not contained in the body of the
    table. The footnote is not intended to convey collateral duties.
    Therefore, we did not add the information suggested by the staff
    director. We note, however, the draft report contained a background
    paragraph which lists the activities carried out by the Commission to
    accomplish its mission, including the investigation of charges of
    citizens being deprived of voting rights because of color, race, religion,
    sex, age, disability, or national origin.

14. The products that the staff director refers to were accurately described
    in our draft report as expected to be issued after fiscal year 2002, as he
    acknowledges in his description of expectations regarding each
    product.

15. We continue to believe that our findings on the extent of financial
    oversight at the Commission are factually correct. Moreover, the
    recommendations we made in the draft report were based on the
    deficiencies we found in the Commission’s management practices.

16. We do not agree that the draft report implied that a flow of financial
    information from the staff director to the commissioners is
    inappropriate. In fact, the concern the draft highlights is that
    information is centralized around the staff director, creating a situation
    that precludes appropriate checks and balances.

17. We believe that the Commission’s internal communication policy was
    an appropriate aspect of Commission operations for us to review. As
    noted in our draft report, some commissioners, as well as senior
    Commission managers, told us they believe that the current policy
    stifles communication and productivity within the agency and creates
    an environment of uneasiness. Moreover, the Commission’s policy
    limiting direct commissioner and staff interaction is not consistent
    with sound management principles of highly effective organizations.


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Appendix IV: Comments from the
Commission’s Staff Director




    Finally, we do not believe the longevity of a policy justifies its
    existence when the need for change becomes apparent.

18. While it is true that the Commission has several large dollar
    agreements with other agencies, these agreements are not contracts
    awarded pursuant to the FAR, and our review did not extend to them.
    Our review was limited to an examination of how well the Commission
    used its contracting authority for purchases above the micro-purchase
    threshold. Our review focused on the extent to which the Commission
    complied with regulatory requirements applicable to these
    procurements.

19. When we requested a list of all contracts for which the Commission
    budgeted or paid funds against in fiscal year 2002, the Commission
    provided us with a list of 11 contracts and orders awarded by the
    Commission. The staff director correctly points out that we requested
                                       th
    and received information on a 12 contract that was entered into in
    fiscal year 2003. This contract was specifically brought to our attention
    by our requester, but fell outside the timeframe we included in our
    scope. The draft has been corrected to show 11 contracts reported by
    the Commission as ongoing in fiscal year 2002. The change in the
    number of contracts we are reporting on did not affect in any manner
    our findings or conclusions.

20. Our draft report has been revised to report 11 as the number of
    contracts that the Commission listed to us that it entered into in fiscal
    year 2002. The Commission noted in a letter accompanying the list,
    however, that its list of contracts did not include the Commission’s
    day-to-day administrative contracts, such as those for court reporters,
    temporary support services, and meeting room rentals. In discussions
    with the staff director and the acting chief, Administrative Services and
    Clearinghouse Division, we were told, as the staff director restates
    here, that these administrative contracts were modest and done
    through small scale purchase orders below the micro-purchase
    threshold. We noted in our draft report that we did not include these
    contracts in our review.

21. We disagree with the staff director’s conclusion, and the logic used to
    reach that conclusion, that the Commission’s contracting practices are
    currently sound. We recognize that the Commission has undertaken
    many other contracting actions. We did not include these in our
    analysis because of the reasons stated in comments 18 and 20. Our
    review of the 11 contracts provided to us reveals that the Commission
    did not follow proper procedures for the majority of these contracts,
    that is, all 7 above the micro-purchase threshold.


Page 54                                   GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
Appendix IV: Comments from the
Commission’s Staff Director




22. We refer the staff director to the list of 11 contracts provided to us
    earlier in our review, 7 of which were of amounts exceeding the micro-
    purchase threshold. The Commission, in addition to lacking
    documentation on whether some contracts were competed, could not
    provide documentation to support that publicity requirements were
    met for other purchases, nor in the absence of such documentation,
    written justifications from contract files that would explain why those
    requirements were not met.

23. The staff director acknowledges that the Commission could improve
    its recordkeeping and documentation procedures in terms of contract
    maintenance. He indicates that we erroneously state that the
    Commission did not compete its media services contract. In fact, our
    report states that the Commission could not document that it
    competed the initial media services contract. Without such
    documentation, we cannot ascertain whether or not this or certain
    other contracts at the Commission were, in fact, competed. We believe
    documentation deficiencies constitute a material breach of proper
    contracting activities.

24. The staff director’s comments support our finding that documentation
    deficiencies were found across the contracts we reviewed. To the
    extent that an unfamiliarity with specific requirements contributed to
    the deficiencies, our draft recommendation for greater controls,
    including the need for qualified personnel to oversee contracting
    activities, becomes underscored.

25. We continue to believe that the Commission did not follow proper
    procedures in awarding any of its contracts over the micro-purchase
    threshold, and that this condition limited the Commission’s ability to
    obtain the benefits of competition. Concerning the 2 contracts
    specifically mentioned in the staff director’s comments, we found that
    the Commission did in fact send out requests for quotations; however,
    it could not document that it had met other regulatory requirements,
    such as the requirements for publicizing proposed contract actions
    that serve to ensure that the vendor community is made aware of an
    agency’s need for services. By not doing so, the Commission limited
    the potential pool of bidders because other vendors were likely
    unaware of the contract and therefore did not have the opportunity to
    submit bids.

26. We continue to believe that the manner in which the Commission
    obtained media services from the Federal Supply Schedule was not
    consistent with GSA’s established ordering procedures. While it is true
    that the GSA has clarified its regulation language to make clear its


Page 55                                GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
Appendix IV: Comments from the
Commission’s Staff Director




    intent that soliciting from three vendors is mandatory, the staff
    director in his comments ignores the requirements in those earlier
    regulations to prepare an RFQ, transmit the request to contractors, and
    evaluate the responses before selecting the contractor to receive the
    order. We maintain that even the earlier version of GSA’s regulation
    was sufficiently clear in its requirement to solicit quotes from more
    than one vendor.

27. For the reasons cited in comments 28 and 30, we do not agree that we
    imposed subjective and arbitrary criteria when assessing the
    soundness of the Commission’s contracting activities.

28. While the Commission’s concern for small, traditionally disadvantaged
    and women-owned businesses is laudable, it does not provide a license
    for circumventing established contracting regulations and procedures
    to achieve these ends. We are aware of the Small Business
    Administration’s 8(a) program. Having elected not to pursue the 8(a)
    program, however, it was incumbent upon the Commission to adhere
    to procedures governing its choice of procurement vehicles. The
    regulations do not state nor imply that agencies promoting small
    disadvantaged or women-owned businesses in government
    procurement may dispense with the other requirements, such as the
    requirement to solicit multiple bids. Moreover, we note that OMB
    Circular A-76 does not encourage contracting out but merely
    establishes procedures for public-private competition.

29. We disagree. The Commission’s relationship with its media services
    vendor has evolved into a de facto annual award. In addition, for fiscal
    year 2003, the contract had a maximum value of $156,000. We did not
    request records from the Commission in attempt to tally a fiscal year
    2003 total of funds actually spent. We did, however, tally a fiscal year
    2002 total of funds spent on the media services contract and found that
    $131,225 was spent on a “not-to-exceed” limit of $140,000. We have
    added a footnote in the report section to clarify this point.

30. We disagree with the staff director’s belief that our findings are
    subjective and erroneous. We continue to believe that it is important to
    provide written performance-based requirements documents and do
    not believe that simplified acquisition procedures preclude this need.

31. As our draft report stated, written performance-based requirements
    documents can help ensure contractors’ work against measurable
    standards.




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Appendix IV: Comments from the
Commission’s Staff Director




32. For the 7 contracts we reviewed with amounts above the micro-
    purchase threshold, the Commission did not provide contractors in
    writing with specific task orders, instead providing oral information on
    tasks to be performed. For example, for its largest contract (media
    services), a broad statement of work with little detail was written to
    accompany the order. The staff director told us that he meets regularly
    with the contractor to discuss specific tasks under the order. As we
    state in comment 31, without written performance-based requirements
    documents, contractors’ work products cannot be successfully
    evaluated in a transparent manner.

33. The Commission does not maintain written information on specific
    work tasks communicated to the vendor, expected timeframes for
    specific tasks to be performed, or the definition or description of how
    tasks were to be performed. Rather, the work reports that the staff
    director refers to consisted of several press releases, meant to
    illustrate activities performed by its media services vendor and copies
    of vendor invoices that showed tasks such as, media outreach/story
    placement, faxing, planning and consultation, etc., for which the
    Commission was billed. We continue to believe that the Commission
    cannot effectively assess contractor performance based on the
    documentation we were provided.

34. The staff director recognizes that the Commission has experienced
    significant turnover with regard to its contracting personnel. Yet he
    disagrees with our characterization that the Commission’s current
    personnel are not sufficiently qualified in certain areas of contracting.
    The problems identified in this report should alert the Commission to
    the necessity of improving its contracting support or to look for
    outside assistance in this area.

35. To conduct our review, we relied upon the extensive legal and
    technical assistance available within our agency. When issues arose
    during our interviews that required either GAO or Commission officials
    to conduct additional analysis, then a follow-on discussion usually
    transpired. We stand behind the findings reported in the draft report.




Page 57                                  GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
Appendix V: GAO Contacts and Staff
Acknowledgments

                  Brett Fallavollita, Assistant Director (202) 512-8507
GAO Contacts      Monika Gomez, Analyst-in-Charge (202) 512-9062



                  Dennis Gehley made significant contributions to this report, in all aspects
Acknowledgments   of the work throughout the review. In addition, Caterina Pisciotta assisted
                  in gathering and analyzing information and in writing a section of the
                  report; Lori Rectanus was instrumental in developing our overall design
                  and methodology; Corinna Nicolaou assisted in report and message
                  development; Julian Klazkin and Robert Ackley provided legal support;
                  and Ralph Dawn and H. Kent Bowden provided specialized assistance in
                  the areas of contract and financial management.




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                             Page 58                                 GAO-04-18 U.S. Commission on Civil Rig
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