oversight

D.C. Courts: Staffing Level Determination Could Be More Rigorous

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1999-08-27.

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

                 United States General Accounting Office

GAO              Report to Congressional Requesters




August 1999
                 D.C. COURTS
                 Staffing Level
                 Determination Could
                 Be More Rigorous




GAO/GGD-99-162
United States General Accounting Office                                           General Government Division
Washington, D.C. 20548




                                    B-282696
                                    August 27, 1999

                                    The Honorable Ernest J. Istook Jr.
                                    Chairman, Subcommittee on the District of Columbia
                                    Committee on Appropriations
                                    House of Representatives

                                    The Honorable Tom Davis
                                    Chairman, Subcommittee on the District of Columbia
                                    Committee on Government Reform
                                    House of Representatives

                                    The Honorable James P. Moran
                                    Ranking Minority Member
                                    Subcommittee on the District of Columbia
                                    Committee on Appropriations
                                    House of Representatives

                                    This report responds in part to your request for information concerning
                                    personnel management in the District of Columbia courts. Specifically, this
                                    report provides information about staffing and workload levels for the
                                    courts from 1989 through 1998, assesses how the courts evaluate the
                                    sufficiency of the levels of nonjudicial staff who work on processing and
                                    disposition of cases, and compares the D.C. courts’ staffing methodology
                                    to other available methodologies. We will respond to the other parts of
                                    your request in a future report.

                                    Overall staffing levels in the D.C. courts increased between 1989 and 1990,
Results in Brief                    declined slightly with some fluctuations through 1997, and then decreased
                                    below the 1989 level in 1998. Cases available for disposition increased
                                    slightly during this time in the D.C. Superior Court, the largest part of the
                                    courts, while its backlog increased substantially. The cases available for
                                    disposition, and the backlog, of the far smaller D.C. Court of Appeals
                                    increased steadily over this period. In both courts, the mix of different
                                    types of cases has changed over this period.

                                    District of Columbia court officials said that they consider caseload data,
                                    along with other data, in judging whether staffing levels are appropriate.
                                    For example, the Chief Judge of the Superior Court said that if the number
                                    of filings and case dispositions increased in a given branch, while the case
                                    backlog decreased, the implication is that the staffing level is appropriate.



                                    Page 1                                       GAO/GGD-99-162 D.C. Courts' Staffing
             B-282696




             According to court officials, staffing decisions are made on a year-by-year
             basis and are made individually for each division of the Superior Court and
             Court of Appeals.

             The courts’ methodology does not provide a comprehensive review of
             what staffing levels should be because it does not consider the amount of
             staff time and resources that are needed for case processing. Caseload
             trends alone do not show whether a unit is overstaffed or understaffed
             because they do not account for how much time is needed to process
             differing types of cases or for productivity improvements. For example, if a
             court’s caseload remained constant, but the types of cases shifted from
             those taking relatively smaller amounts of time to cases requiring much
             more time, the court could be understaffed for the amount of work
             required to process the cases.

             Methodologies that consider the amount of staff time and resources
             required to process different types of cases in determining the sufficiency
             of staffing levels do exist. The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) has
             devised a databased system to determine staffing levels needed for a given
             workload, and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AOUSC) uses
             a databased system to distribute resources among the federal courts. We
             make a recommendation in this report that the D.C. courts review the
             amount of time needed to process cases to determine what staffing levels
             are sufficient to process the courts’ caseload.

             The District of Columbia Court Reform and Criminal Procedure Act of
Background   1970 established the D.C. courts in their present form. The courts consist
             of the D.C. Superior Court, the D.C. Court of Appeals, and the D.C. Court
             System. Judges of the D.C. courts are appointed by the President and are
             subject to confirmation by the Senate.

             The D.C. Superior Court has general jurisdiction over virtually all local
             legal matters. It consists of 59 active full-time judges, several senior judges
             who work part-time, and 15 hearing commissioners who exercise limited
             judicial functions. The D.C. Superior Court has several divisions that
             process and dispose of cases, including divisions for civil, criminal,
             probate, and family cases. The court also has divisions that do not process
             cases but provide alternative dispute resolution services and handle the
             juvenile probation function. There are also divisions that perform support
             functions for the court, such as the personnel division.

             The D.C. Court of Appeals is the highest court in the District of Columbia.
             It has nine active full-time judges, and several senior judges serving part-



             Page 2                                        GAO/GGD-99-162 D.C. Courts' Staffing
                         B-282696




                         time, who usually sit in three-judge panels. Appeals from the D.C. Court of
                         Appeals are taken to the U.S. Supreme Court.

                         The D.C. Court System does not process cases but provides administrative
                         services to the Superior Court and Court of Appeals, including fiscal
                         services, education and training, data processing, personnel management,
                         and court reporting.

                         A Joint Committee on Judicial Administration governs the D.C. Courts. The
                         Chief Judges of the D.C. Superior Court and D.C. Court of Appeals (both
                         designated by the D.C. Judicial Nominations Commission from among the
                         active judges for a 4-year term) serve on this committee, with the Chief
                         Judge of the Court of Appeals serving as committee chair. In addition,
                         another Court of Appeals judge elected by the Court of Appeals judges,
                         and two Superior Court judges elected by their colleagues, serve on the
                         Joint Committee.

                         The Joint Committee appoints an executive officer who serves at the
                         pleasure of the Joint Committee. The executive officer is responsible for
                         the administration of the courts and can appoint and remove, with the
                         consent of the Joint Committee, all D.C. court personnel (including the
                         Clerks of the Superior Court and Court of Appeals) except for the judges’
                         law clerks and secretaries and the D.C. Register of Wills.

                         Until fiscal year 1998, the D.C. courts’ budget was submitted by the Joint
                         Committee on Judicial Administration, through the D.C. Mayor and
                         Council, to the President and Congress. The budget was forwarded by the
                         Mayor and Council without revision but subject to recommendations. The
                         D.C. Revitalization Act of 1997 (P.L. 105-33) changed this process so that
                         the Joint Committee now submits its budget directly to the Office of
                         Management and Budget, and the Courts’ estimates are included in the
                         President’s budget submission to Congress, without revision but subject to
                         the President’s recommendations.

                         Our objectives were to provide information on staffing and workload
Objectives, Scope, and   levels for the D.C. courts from 1989 through 1998, assess how the D.C.
Methodology              courts evaluate the sufficiency of their nonjudicial case processing staff
                         levels, and compare the D.C. courts’ methodologies to other available
                         methodologies. For the purpose of this review, we defined staff as
                         personnel who perform case processing and disposition functions for the
                         D.C. Superior Court and the D.C. Court of Appeals, such as clerks, bailiffs,
                         court reporters, administrators, and so on. This definition does not include
                         judges or their law clerks and secretaries.



                         Page 3                                      GAO/GGD-99-162 D.C. Courts' Staffing
                         B-282696




                         To achieve the first objective, we obtained from the courts copies of their
                         annual reports from 1989 through 1998, which contain workload data. We
                         obtained staffing level data for 1989 through 1998 from the Executive
                         Office of the D.C. Courts. We did not independently verify data obtained
                         from the courts.

                         To achieve the second objective, we obtained relevant reports and
                         documents from the D.C. courts and interviewed the clerks of the Superior
                         Court and the Court of Appeals and the acting personnel director for the
                         D.C. courts. We subsequently sent a letter to the Chief Judges of the
                         Superior Court and Court of Appeals, asking for a statement of how staff
                         levels were determined and for a statement of the courts’ position
                         concerning the possibility of a databased study of staffing levels. We
                         received separate replies from the Chief Judges of the Superior Court and
                         Court of Appeals, the contents of which are discussed in this report. We
                         also surveyed a representative sample of D.C. court employees in February
                         1999 on their perceptions of personnel management in the D.C. courts;
                         several of the questions in the survey referred to staffing.

                         To achieve the third objective, we held discussions with officials of
                         AOUSC and reviewed documents provided by these officials. We also
                         discussed state court staffing with officials of NCSC, which is a
                         clearinghouse for state court information and which provides consulting,
                         conference, and educational services to the state courts. We obtained
                         documents from NCSC concerning its methodology for state court staffing
                         reviews and information on actual reviews done in several states.

                         We did our work from January through June 1999 in accordance with
                         generally accepted government auditing standards. We requested
                         comments from the Joint Committee on Judicial Administration of the D.C.
                         courts. The comments are discussed near the end of this letter and
                         reprinted in appendix I.

                         As shown in table 1, staffing levels in the D.C. courts, excluding judges and
Trends in D.C. Courts’   their law clerks and secretaries, as measured by full-time equivalents
Staffing and Workload    (FTE), were 5.7 percent lower in fiscal year 1998 than in fiscal year 1989.
                         There was about a 10 percent increase in FTE levels for 1990 compared
                         with 1989. FTE levels fluctuated between 1,231 and 1,187 during the period
                         from fiscal year 1990 through fiscal year 1997. There was a decrease of
                         about 11 percent in FTE levels in fiscal year 1998.




                         Page 4                                      GAO/GGD-99-162 D.C. Courts' Staffing
                                         B-282696




Table 1: D.C. Court FTEs, Fiscal Years 1989 Through 1998
                    FY 1989 FY 1990 FY 1991 FY 1992                   FY 1993      FY 1994      FY 1995       FY 1996       FY 1997       FY 1998
              a
Superior Court        1,005       1,100     1,090     1,063             1,082        1,071        1,057         1,058         1,032           889
                a
Court of Appeals         34          41        41        41                43           47           43            42            44            47
Court System             77          90        93        98                93          103          106           102           111           116
Total                 1,116       1,231     1,224     1,202             1,218        1,221        1,206         1,202         1,187         1,052
                                         a
                                             Excludes judges and their law clerks and secretaries.
                                         Source: Executive Office of the D.C. Courts.


                                         FTEs in the Superior Court increased by approximately 10 percent
                                         between fiscal years 1989 and 1990; declined, with some fluctuations, by
                                         about 6 percent through fiscal year 1997; then decreased by about 14
                                         percent in fiscal year 1998. According to a court official, most of the
                                         increase in FTEs in 1990 was due to staff associated with eight additional
                                         judgeships that were filled in that year. Much of the 1998 decrease in FTEs
                                         was attributed to the removal from the courts of the responsibility for
                                                                                                 1
                                         adult probation by the D.C. Revitalization Act of 1997.

                                         The FTEs for the Court of Appeals increased by approximately 21 percent
                                         between fiscal years 1989 and 1990 and then remained relatively constant
                                         thereafter. The stability in FTEs after 1990 was associated with the
                                         institution of a case management system in 1990 that was aimed at
                                         enhancing the efficiency of processing appeals.

                                         The Court System, although not directly involved in case processing or
                                         disposition, was the only part of the courts to show FTE increases during
                                         almost all of this period, with the fiscal year 1998 FTE level 50.6 percent
                                         above that of 1989. The rise in staffing levels in the Court System,
                                         according to the Executive Officer of the D.C. courts, was due to an
                                         increase from 51 to 59 Superior Court judges in 1990, the assumption by
                                         the courts (from the D.C. Department of Administrative Services) of
                                         responsibility for janitorial services in court buildings in 1993, and the
                                         assumption by the courts (from the D.C. Department of Public Works) of
                                         responsibility for all maintenance of court buildings in 1996.

                                         Table 2 shows the workload of the Superior Court during the calendar year
                                         period from 1989 through 1998. Cases available for disposition in the


                                         1
                                          According to a D.C. courts official, the decrease in the Superior Court’s FTEs from 1,032 in fiscal year
                                         1997 to 889 in fiscal year 1998 resulted from the Superior Court’s transferring 163 filled positions to the
                                         Court Services and Offender Supervision Trustee for the District of Columbia, created by the D.C.
                                         Revitalization Act, and the normal fluctuation in staffing (i.e., filling vacant authorized positions). This
                                         resulted in a net loss of approximately140 FTEs between fiscal year 1997 and fiscal year 1998.




                                         Page 5                                                         GAO/GGD-99-162 D.C. Courts' Staffing
                                         B-282696




                                         Superior Court decreased 2.8 percent during this period, while cases
                                         pending increased 36.5 percent.


Table 2: Superior Court Workload, 1989 Through 1998
                     1989      1990       1991      1992              1993         1994          1995          1996          1997          1998
Cases available
                a
for disposition   244,405   241,204     248,752  255,194          247,186       243,141       242,885      241,131       241,201        237,612
                          b
Percent change        N/A       (1.3)       3.1       2.6            (3.1)         (1.6)         (0.1)        (0.7)          0.0           (1.5)
Cases pending
(year end)         39,925     39,509     49,501   47,896           45,229        52,219        43,834        52,087       53,786         54,513
Percent change         5.6      (0.7)      25.1     (2.4)            (5.1)         15.5         (16.1)         17.7          3.3            1.4
                                         a
                                         Includes cases pending at the beginning of the year, cases filed in current year, and cases filed in
                                         previous years that were reactivated or became “at issue” during the year.
                                         b
                                         N/A represents not applicable.
                                         Sources: Annual Reports of the D.C. Courts and Executive Office of the D.C. Courts.


                                         The overall workload statistics shown in table 2 are combinations of
                                         different types of cases, and the mix of case types in the workload can vary
                                         over time. For example, of cases filed in 1989, 13.0 percent were felony
                                         cases, and 15.9 percent were misdemeanor or traffic cases. In 1998, 5.8
                                         percent of filings were felony cases, and 19.9 percent were misdemeanor
                                         or traffic cases. Court officials pointed out several factors that have the
                                         potential of affecting their pending caseload, in addition to changes in the
                                         mix of cases over time. For example, the use of therapeutic case
                                         processing alternatives, such as those used in drug court or with domestic
                                         violence cases, may extend the life of a case on a pending caseload while
                                         they also result in the rehabilitation of the offender.

                                         The caseload of the D.C. Court of Appeals significantly increased during
                                         this same period, as shown in table 3.


Table 3: D. C. Court of Appeals Workload, 1989 Through 1998
                            a
                      1989        1990      1991      1992            1993          1994          1995         1996          1997          1998
Cases available
                b
for disposition       3,881      3,887     3,616     3,463            3,646        3,680         3,925        4,454         4,763         4,592
Percent change          (2.3)       0.0     (7.0)     (4.2)             5.3          0.1           6.7         13.5           6.9          (3.6)
Cases pending
(year-end)            2,283      2,089     1,853     1,945            1,991        2,093         2,443        2,671         2,634         2,694
Percent change          (2.7)     (8.5)    (11.3)       5.0             2.4          5.1          16.7          9.3          (1.4)          2.3
                                         a
                                          In 1994 the Court of Appeals revised its data reporting to exclude rehearings from its case totals.
                                         The Court made this revision for prior year data, from 1990 through 1993 but not for 1989 data. There
                                         were 19 rehearings granted in 1989, 27 in 1990, 40 in 1991, 33 in 1992, and 23 in 1993.
                                         b
                                          Includes cases pending at the beginning of the year, cases filed during the year, and cases
                                         reinstated.
                                         Sources: Annual Reports of the D.C. Courts and Executive Office of the D.C. Courts.




                                         Page 6                                                      GAO/GGD-99-162 D.C. Courts' Staffing
                          B-282696




                          The total number of Court of Appeals cases available for disposition in
                          1998 was 18.3 percent greater than in 1989, and the number of pending
                          cases at year-end was 18.0 percent greater. In 1989, 42.3 percent of the
                          court’s new filings were criminal cases, and 32.1 percent were civil cases;
                          of 1998 filings, 39.4 percent were criminal, and 23.2 percent were civil. In
                          both years, the balance of the cases fell into a number of categories,
                          including family or agency proceedings. Overall appeal filings were 28
                          percent higher in 1998 than in 1989.
                                                                                       2
                          In three reports issued from 1980 through 1990, we recommended to
How the D. C. Courts      certain federal agencies increased emphasis on workforce planning and set
Evaluate Sufficiency of   forth the basic elements of such planning. Among these elements was that
Staffing Levels           of identifying the number of employees needed to accomplish agency
                          goals. We specifically identified collecting and analyzing data on staff time
                          required to fulfill agency goals as an important element of workforce
                          planning.

                          We asked D.C. court officials how they evaluate staffing needs. Officials of
                          the D.C. courts said that workload data are used to assess the staffing
                          needs of the courts. The Chief Judge of the Superior Court said that he
                          monitors the court’s case inventory and case processing and relies on
                          actual observation of service delivery and review of customer complaints
                          and compliments. According to the chief judge, if customers are being
                          “courteously, fairly, accurately, and expeditiously serviced,” the court’s
                          workforce is considered appropriate for its needs.

                          The chief judge gave several examples of such assessments. One example
                          referred to the Felony Branch of the Criminal Division, for which filings
                          and dispositions had declined from 1994 through 1998, and cases pending
                          and the backlog had decreased in the same period. According to the chief
                          judge, this implied that case processing is within acceptable limits and that
                          therefore the branch’s workforce is appropriate. The chief judge also
                          noted, however, that other branches’ backlogs have increased, indicating
                          that their staffing was not sufficient. He cited as an example the
                          Misdemeanor and Traffic Branch of the Criminal Division, for which the
                          backlog increased substantially, from 1996 through 1998, although case
                          filings and dispositions went up and down in volume from year to year.



                          2
                           Federal Work Force Planning: Time for Renewed Emphasis (FPCD-81-4, Dec. 30,1980); Managing
                          Human Resources: Greater OPM Leadership Needed to Address Critical Challenges (GAO/GGD-89-19,
                          Jan. 19, 1989); U.S. Department of Agriculture: Need for Improved Workforce Planning (GAO/RCED-90-
                          97, Mar. 6, 1990).




                          Page 7                                                   GAO/GGD-99-162 D.C. Courts' Staffing
B-282696




The Clerk of the Superior Court told us that decisions on changes in
staffing from the previous year are made separately for each division of the
court. If a division director indicates more staff is needed, the clerk will try
to meet those needs by moving members of the workforce around between
                                                                          3
working units while maintaining the same overall workforce numbers. The
clerk said that he will usually approve new hiring only for a new function
or program. The clerk is to send staffing recommendations to the
executive officer and the Joint Committee on Judicial Administration for
inclusion in the budget.

Similar to the Chief Judge of the Superior Court, the Chief Judge of the
Court of Appeals also said that the court uses indicators such as case
filings, number and types of dispositions, cases pending, time involved in
various stages of the process, and general mix of cases. With these data,
according to the chief judge, the clerk and staff of the court identify
staffing needs and possible management efficiencies.

The Clerk of the Court of Appeals said that, as with the Superior Court,
staffing decisions are made on a functional basis for each division of the
court, rather than for the court as a whole.

We also obtained the perspective of D.C. court employees concerning
court staffing. As part of our overall review of personnel practices in the
D.C. courts, we mailed out a questionnaire in February 1999 to a random,
representative sample of court employees to get their views on the courts’
personnel practices. More than 70 percent of those employees in the
sample who were working for the courts answered our questionnaire. In
addition to their perceptions regarding selected personnel practices, we
asked for their views on the adequacy of staffing levels. We estimated that
about 40 percent of the courts’ employees would agree or strongly agree
that their work unit had a sufficient number of employees to do its job and
about 49 percent would disagree or strongly disagree, while the remaining
percentage would neither agree nor disagree, not be sure, or have no basis
to judge. A similar question was asked of federal employees in a 1996
governmentwide survey. About 43 percent said their work unit had a
sufficient number of employees, while about 47 percent disagreed or
strongly disagreed and the remaining percentage neither agreed nor
disagreed.



3
According to the Executive Office of the D.C. courts, transfers of personnel between the Superior
Court, Court of Appeals, and Court System are possible, but rarely happen in practice.




Page 8                                                     GAO/GGD-99-162 D.C. Courts' Staffing
                  B-282696




                  The federal court system and some state court systems use formulas based
Methods Used by   on court workload data to determine satisfactory levels of staffing and
Other Courts      resources. The federal court system uses a databased system to distribute
                  resources to the U.S. Appellate, District, and Bankruptcy Courts, and the
                  Probation and Pretrial Services Offices. Prior to the adoption of this
                  system, these courts had received resources on the basis of total number
                  of people employed and cases heard in a given year. However, court
                  administrators came to realize that this system did not distribute resources
                  efficiently because it did not take into account that certain types of court
                  activities will take more time and resources than other types of activities.
                  The system is based on a large number of various workload statistics,
                  which are fed into “work measurement formulas.” Based on the statistics
                  and the formulas, a specific number of “work units” are allocated to each
                  federal judicial district and circuit. Such work units consider tasks
                  associated with the nature and types of cases, given a standard rate of
                  efficiency (how much time and resources such cases should take). Each
                  work unit is equal to a certain amount of money, the exact amount
                  depending on overall budget levels. The managers of each court can use
                  their allocation to hire or retain staff or to make capital purchases to
                  improve court productivity.

                  NCSC has developed and promulgated a “weighted caseload” system.
                  Under this system, officials determine how much time is taken up by
                  different types of cases in the court or courts under study. The officials
                  then determine how much judge or staff time is taken up by the court’s
                  caseload as “weighted” by the time factor and compare total judge or staff
                  years, as calculated, with the actual judges or staff available. How much
                  time is taken up by a certain type of case can be determined by actual
                  measurement of cases in court or by the “Delphi” method of getting judges,
                  staff, or outside experts to estimate the length of time certain cases would
                  take. For example, if a court had five full-time staff members (and thus 5
                  staff years), and it was determined that the court’s annual workload would
                  take 7 staff years to complete, there would be a need for two additional
                  staff members. However, it could also be found that the court’s workload
                  required only 4 staff years, in which case there would be one more staff
                  member than needed.

                  This system was developed to give state government decisionmakers an
                  independent, objective way to evaluate the need for court personnel, based
                  on the actual amount of time and resources different court activities
                  should take. It has been used in at least 11 states, in most instances to
                  determine how many judges are needed in a state. However, the method
                  has been used to determine appropriate levels of court staff in New Jersey,



                  Page 9                                      GAO/GGD-99-162 D.C. Courts' Staffing
B-282696




Colorado, and Kentucky. In Colorado, a weighted caseload study led to the
addition of 30 to 40 court staffers statewide. In Kentucky, NCSC found that
the level of case processing staff was appropriate in rural counties but that
urban areas may need more staff.

In promulgating this method and advocating its use, NCSC acknowledges
that decisions on the size of a court or court staff cannot, and should not,
be based solely on results obtained by a statistical model. Data from the
model, according to NCSC, must be interpreted in a social, cultural, and
political context, and factors peculiar to each court and court circuit
should be considered.

We asked the D.C. courts for their views on having a databased analysis
done on the staffing of the courts, what advantages or disadvantages there
would be in such an analysis, and whether there were features and
qualities of the D.C. courts that would preclude such an analysis. The Chief
Judge of the Superior Court had no objection to databased analysis of the
court’s support staff, based on the work protocols used in the federal
courts, provided that the actual instrument used was developed under the
court’s supervision. He believed such an analysis could be helpful to more
accurately measure the appropriate workforce for divisions that did not
process cases and to check the present case processing measurement used
in the clerk’s office.

The Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, in her response, indicated that
NCSC has had a great deal of experience with methodologies that might be
effectively used for such a study and, therefore, is in a better position to
identify the advantages and disadvantages of each. According to the chief
judge, the primary determinants for a court system in doing such studies
are resource related, and such studies seem to address discrete
components of the court. The chief judge pointed out that the D.C. courts
were a two-tiered system as opposed to the three-tiered system that exists
                4
in most states. She said that whether there are unique features that would
impede such an analysis in the D.C. courts might depend upon which area
of the courts is selected for study. The chief judge added that, given the
small size of the Court of Appeals, the cost of any study of it would likely
outweigh the benefits.




4
 The D.C. courts have two levels—the Superior Court and the Court of Appeals. Eleven state systems
also have two levels; the remaining state systems have a lower court, an intermediate court, and a
court of final appeal.




Page 10                                                   GAO/GGD-99-162 D.C. Courts' Staffing
                   B-282696




                   While D.C. court officials apparently consider caseload data in judging
Conclusion         whether staffing levels are adequate, they have not measured the amount
                   of time required by case processing staff to process differing types of cases
                   nor used such data to determine whether the size of the courts’ workforce
                   is inadequate, adequate, or excessive for the work of the courts. Workload
                   and formula-based methods of assessing the adequacy of case processing
                   staffing levels do exist and are in use in the federal and state courts.
                   Whether the D.C. courts have too many or too few case processing staff for
                   their caseload is a question that cannot be answered without a systematic
                   study.

                   The Chief Judge of the Superior Court believed that such a study
                   employing the work measurement protocol used in the federal judiciary
                   could be helpful. The Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals questioned
                   whether the small size of the appeals court would make a study of the
                   court cost-beneficial. While we believe that the results of such a study
                   could serve as a baseline for the courts and Congress to evaluate court
                   staffing in the future, we recognize that in planning such a project the D.C.
                   courts should weigh potential costs and benefits in determining the
                   project’s scope, including the components that should or should not be
                   covered.

                   We recommend that the D.C. courts review the amount of time required to
Recommendation     process different types of cases and analyze other elements of the courts’
                   workload to determine what staffing levels are sufficient to process the
                   D.C. courts’ caseload. We recommend that, before planning or
                   implementing such a review (including selecting components to be
                   covered and balancing costs and benefits), the courts consult with others
                   who have used workload-based methodologies to evaluate court case
                   processing staffing levels.

                   The Chair of the Joint Committee on Judicial Administration of the D.C.
D.C. Courts’       Courts provided the courts’ written comments on a draft of this report. The
Comments and Our   courts said that they had no objection to conducting a study of staffing
Evaluation         levels using a workload-based methodology, provided that funds are
                   available. They asked that we include a request for such funds in our
                   recommendation. The courts also pointed out that the methodology
                   employed by NCSC, as explained in the draft, has been used in only three
                   states and suggested that we make clear that the courts use a number of
                   factors in assessing the need for staff, most of which are used in other
                   jurisdictions.




                   Page 11                                      GAO/GGD-99-162 D.C. Courts' Staffing
B-282696




We recognize that the determinants for doing such a study include
resource issues. Once the necessary planning for such a study is
completed, including determining its scope, we believe it would be
appropriate for the courts to consult with Congress on the matter of
funding. To the best of our knowledge and that of NCSC, only three states
have done such a study. However, this is not to say that other jurisdictions
have not conducted databased studies to assess the adequacy of their
staffing levels using similar methodologies. We did not examine that issue.
Our objective was to point out that workload-based methodologies exist.

The courts said that our description of its methodology for determining
staffing needs was inaccurate, apparently because we did not refer to
internal budget requests that are prepared by court divisions. We did not
do so because the budget requests dealt with staffing needs only in an
incremental manner. Where division managers requested individual staff,
they did so to meet an increase in workload from the previous year, such
as when the court took on a new statutory responsibility; in these cases,
there was no attempt to review whether a division’s staffing level was
appropriate for its overall workload. Our depiction of the courts’
methodology for assessing the adequacy of staffing levels was based on
descriptions provided by officials of the Superior Court and Court of
Appeals.

The courts took exception to our reference in the draft report to previous
reports issued by GAO recommending increased emphasis on workload
planning by federal agencies. The courts believed that our reference to
these reports is misleading and gives the impression that the courts were
mandated to follow these earlier recommendations. The courts were not
mandated to follow these earlier recommendations. We believe these
reports provide useful context for our recommendations, and we
specifically point out in the text of this report that the recommendations
were made to certain federal agencies.

The courts elaborated on the staffing and workload data provided in the
draft report. They also provided technical clarifications as well as
suggestions for the report’s presentation. We incorporated these as
appropriate.




Page 12                                     GAO/GGD-99-162 D.C. Courts' Staffing
B-282696




We are providing a copy of this report to Representatives C.W. Bill Young,
Chairman, and David Obey, Ranking Minority Member, Committee on
Appropriations; Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, Ranking Minority
Member, Subcommittee on the District of Columbia, Committee on
Government Reform; Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison, Chairwoman, and
Richard Durbin, Ranking Minority Member, Subcommittee on the District
of Columbia, Committee on Appropriations; Senator George Voinovich,
Chairman, Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management,
Restructuring, and the District of Columbia, Committee on Governmental
Affairs; and Representative Julian Dixon. We are also providing copies to
the District of Columbia courts, the National Center for State Courts, and
the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. We will make copies available
to others on request.

If you have any questions, please call me at (202) 512-8676. Key
contributors to the report included Richard W. Caradine, Domingo D.
Nieves, and Steven J. Berke.



Michael Brostek
Associate Director, Federal Management
 and Workforce Issues




Page 13                                    GAO/GGD-99-162 D.C. Courts' Staffing
Contents



Letter                                                                                                1


Appendix I                                                                                           16
                    GAO Comments                                                                     24
Comments From the
D.C. Courts
Tables              Table 1: D.C. Court FTEs, Fiscal Years 1989 Through                               5
                      1998
                    Table 2: Superior Court Workload, 1989 Through 1998                               6
                    Table 3: D. C. Court of Appeals Workload, 1989 Through                            6
                      1998




                    Abbreviations

                    AOUSC         Administrative Office of the United States Courts
                    FTE           full-time equivalent
                    NCSC          National Center for State Courts




                    Page 14                                         GAO/GGD-99-162 D.C. Courts’ Staffing
Page 15   GAO/GGD-99-162 D.C. Courts’ Staffing
Appendix I

Comments From the D.C. Courts


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




                             Page 16   GAO/GGD-99-162 D.C. Courts' Staffing
                 Appendix I
                 Comments From the D.C. Courts




See p. 12.




See comment 1.




Now p. 1.




                 Page 17                         GAO/GGD-99-162 D.C. Courts' Staffing
                 Appendix I
                 Comments From the D.C. Courts




Now p. 1.
See comment 2.




Now pp. 1-2.




See p. 12.




See comment 3.



See comment 4.



Now p. 2.

Now p. 2.




Now pp. 2-3.



Now p. 3.




                 Page 18                         GAO/GGD-99-162 D.C. Courts' Staffing
                 Appendix I
                 Comments From the D.C. Courts




Now p. 3.




Now p. 3.



Now p. 3.




Now p. 5.

See comment 5.

See p. 5.



Now p. 6.


See comment 6.




                 Page 19                         GAO/GGD-99-162 D.C. Courts' Staffing
                 Appendix I
                 Comments From the D.C. Courts




Now p. 6.



See comment 7.




Now p. 7.




                 Page 20                         GAO/GGD-99-162 D.C. Courts' Staffing
                 Appendix I
                 Comments From the D.C. Courts




See p. 12.




See comment 8.




                 Page 21                         GAO/GGD-99-162 D.C. Courts' Staffing
Appendix I
Comments From the D.C. Courts




Page 22                         GAO/GGD-99-162 D.C. Courts' Staffing
Appendix I
Comments From the D.C. Courts




Page 23                         GAO/GGD-99-162 D.C. Courts' Staffing
               Appendix I
               Comments From the D.C. Courts




               The following are GAO’s comments on the letter from the Chair of the
GAO Comments   Joint Committee on Judicial Administration of the D.C. Courts, dated
               August 17, 1999:

               1. The courts recommended a change in the title of our report. We believe
                  that the title is objective and accurately reflects our conclusions and
                  recommendation.

               2. The courts noted an inconsistency between our characterization of the
                  D.C. Court of Appeals caseload on page 1 and elsewhere in the body of
                  the report. We have corrected page 1.

               3. The courts suggested that wording used in the body of the report to
                  discuss Court of Appeals staffing methodology be reproduced in the
                  Results in Brief. The purpose of Results in Brief is to summarize the
                  discussion in the body of the report; replicating the entire discussion in
                  the body would be redundant.

               4. The courts made a number of suggestions for technical revisions in the
                  Background section of our report. We have made these revisions in the
                  Background section of our report where appropriate.

               5. The courts provided FTE data exclusive of judges and their law clerks
                  and secretaries. We have adjusted table 1 on page 5 to reflect this data.

               6. The courts commented that our presentation of workload data did not
                  present a complete picture in that it did not reflect the causal factors
                  that account for increased backlog. We included some of the courts’
                  explanation on page 6.

               7. The courts suggested we include data on appeal filings in our
                  presentation of Court of Appeals caseload data. We have done so in the
                  text on page 7.

               8. The Courts said that our recommendation should include a request that
                  funds be appropriated to cover the cost of a databased study. We
                  address this issue on page 12.




               Page 24                                     GAO/GGD-99-162 D.C. Courts' Staffing
Ordering Information

The first copy of each GAO report and testimony is free. Additional
copies are $2 each. Orders should be sent to the following address,
accompanied by a check or money order made out to the
Superintendent of Documents, when necessary. VISA and
MasterCard credit cards are accepted, also. Orders for 100 or more
copies to be mailed to a single address are discounted 25 percent.

Order by mail:

U.S. General Accounting Office
P.O. Box 37050
Washington, DC 20013

or visit:

Room 1100
     th                  th
700 4 St. NW (corner of 4 and G Sts. NW)
U.S. General Accounting Office
Washington, DC

Orders may also be placed by calling (202) 512-6000 or by using fax
number (202) 512-6061, or TDD (202) 512-2537.

Each day, GAO issues a list of newly available reports and testimony.
To receive facsimile copies of the daily list or any list from the past
30 days, please call (202) 512-6000 using a touch-tone phone. A
recorded menu will provide information on how to obtain these
lists.

For information on how to access GAO reports on the INTERNET,
send e-mail message with “info” in the body to:

info@www.gao.gov

or visit GAO’s World Wide Web Home Page at:

http://www.gao.gov
United States                       Bulk Rate
General Accounting Office      Postage & Fees Paid
Washington, D.C. 20548-0001           GAO
                                Permit No. G100
Official Business
Penalty for Private Use $300

Address Correction Requested




(410415)