DOJ's Civil Rights Division:

Opportunities Exist to Improve Its Case Management System and Better Meet Its Reporting Needs

GAO-09-938R: Published: Sep 30, 2009. Publicly Released: Dec 3, 2009.

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The Civil Rights Division (Division) of the Department of Justice (DOJ) is the primary federal entity charged with enforcing federal statutes prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, sex, disability, religion, and national origin in such areas as voting, employment, housing, public accommodations, the rights of institutionalized persons, and education. Each year, the Division initiates thousands of matters, which may consist of the investigation of an allegation of discrimination, and participates in hundreds of cases to carry out its broad enforcement responsibilities. Over the past 20 years, the Division has used various case management systems to manage its workload. In October 2000, the Division implemented the Interactive Case Management System (ICM) as its official system to track, count, and capture performance measurement information for all matters and cases from their inception to their conclusion and to assist staff in their casework. According to Division documentation, ICM was also designed to serve as a tool for senior management to oversee the work of the Division and to assist senior managers in reporting accurate matter and case data at all levels of the organization, improving accountability, analyzing the Division's performance, and responding to congressional inquiries about the work of the Division. Additionally, ICM was designed to capture and report on the level of effort that attorneys and professionals dedicate to investigations and case-related tasks to help Division managers oversee attorneys' work. Like the Division, each of DOJ's other litigating components has its own case management system to maintain information on its respective enforcement efforts. According to DOJ, the distribution of information across different case management systems makes it difficult and costly to generate department-level reports that support decision making. By linking the various litigating components, the Litigation Case Management System (LCMS) will enable greater and more effective collaboration and information management. In March 2006, DOJ began the LCMS project, intended to link the seven litigating components and facilitate the sharing of standardized information on their enforcement efforts by replacing components' individual case management systems, including ICM. However, according to a DOJ Office of the Inspector General (OIG) report issued in March 2009, the implementation of the first stage of LCMS is nearly 2 years behind schedule and overbudget. Moreover, DOJ is now uncertain if LCMS will be implemented in six of the litigating components, including the Division, raising questions as to whether the Division will need to continue to rely on ICM. Because DOJ has such broad responsibilities for enforcing statutes that prohibit discrimination, Congress asked us to review the enforcement efforts of four sections within the Division--the Employment Litigation, Housing and Civil Enforcement, Voting, and Special Litigation sections from fiscal years 2001 through 2007, including how the Division uses its case management system to collect data on these efforts. This report addresses the following questions: (1) To what extent has the Division conducted and documented assessments of ICM's performance since its implementation in fiscal year 2001? (2) What additional data, if any, could be collected using ICM to assist in reporting on the four sections' enforcement efforts?

In accordance with DOJ guidance that encourages components to conduct assessments of electronic data systems at least once a year in order to ensure that the systems are performing cost effectively and continue to meet the needs of the users, the Division reported conducting annual assessments of ICM's performance from fiscal years 2001 through 2006, but has not assessed the performance of ICM since then and lacks documentation of its prior assessments. As a result, the Division lacks information on how ICM is performing and whether it is meeting users' needs. Additionally, by requiring sections to collect additional data in ICM on protected class and subject--information that is key to ensuring that the Division executes its charge to enforce statutes prohibiting discrimination on the basis of protected class and has repeatedly been requested by congressional committees for oversight purposes--the Division could strengthen its ability to account for its enforcement efforts. According to DOJ officials, when planning for ICM's implementation with section officials, the Division did not consider requiring sections to record these data.

Status Legend:

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

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To strengthen the Division's ability to manage and report on the four sections' enforcement efforts, the Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division should conduct and respond to annual assessments of the performance of the Division's case management system and ensure that these assessments are documented and maintained so they can be used to improve the performance of the system.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Civil Rights Division

    Status: Open

    Comments: In September 2009, we reported on the Civil Rights Division's Interactive Case Management System (ICM), including the extent to which the Division has conducted and documented assessments of ICM's performance since its implementation in fiscal year 2001. We found that in accordance with Department of Justice (DOJ) guidance that encourages components to conduct assessments of electronic data systems at least once a year in order to ensure that the systems are performing cost effectively and continue to meet the needs of the users, the Division reported conducting annual assessments of ICM's performance from fiscal years 2001 through 2006, but had not assessed the performance of ICM since then and lacks documentation of its prior assessments. As a result, the Division lacks information on how ICM is performing and whether it is meeting users' needs. Accordingly, we recommended that the then Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Division conduct and respond to annual assessments of the performance of the Division's case management system and ensure that these assessments are documented and maintained so that they can be used to improve the performance of the system. In January 2010, the Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division stated that the Division concurred with the recommendation and would conduct an assessment during fiscal year 2010. He further noted that the Division was determining the best way to conduct an assessment during the upgrade and expected that the assessment review would include such items as user meetings, surveys, interviews, and refresher training. Moreover, the Division planned to initiate a series of intra-agency meetings to determine and document ways to improve the performance and user satisfaction of the ICM system, including obtaining input regarding the usefulness, accuracy, and reliability of the ICM system. In a September 2011 correspondence with DOJ, DOJ reported that the assessments were ongoing and were projected to be completed during the third quarter of fiscal year 2012. GAO requested that DOJ provide a copy of the assessment as soon as it's completed.

    Recommendation: To strengthen the Division's ability to manage and report on the four sections' enforcement efforts, the Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division should require the Employment Litigation, Housing and Civil Enforcement, and Voting sections to record data on protected class and all four sections to record data on subject in the Division's case management system in order to strengthen its ability to account for its enforcement efforts.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Civil Rights Division

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 2009, we reported on the Civil Rights Division's Interactive Case Management System (ICM), including what additional data could be collected using ICM to assist in reporting on the enforcement efforts of the Division's Employment Litigation, Housing and Civil Enforcement, Voting Rights, and Special Litigation Sections. We found that although congressional committees and external stakeholders have repeatedly requested information regarding the protected class and subject related to cases and matters and ICM includes fields to collect these data, the Division had not required sections to do this because, according to Division officials, when planning for ICM's implementation with section officials, the Division did not consider requiring sections to provide these data. Moreover, although acknowledging that they received requests for such information, some section officials said they did not believe it was necessary to maintain this information in ICM for internal management purposes. As a result, the Division lacked information in ICM on protected class and subject--information that is key to ensuring that the Division executes its charge to enforce statutes prohibiting discrimination on the basis of protected class and has repeatedly been requested by congressional committees for oversight purposes. Accordingly, we recommended that the then Acting Assistant Attorney General require the Employment Litigation, Housing and Civil Enforcement, and Voting sections to record data on protected class and all four sections to record data on subject in the Division's case management system in order to strengthen its ability to account for its enforcement efforts. In January 2010, the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division stated that the Division concurred with the recommendation and had already taken steps to implement it for all sections. Specifically, pursuant to a memorandum dated November 25, 2009, the sections are required to record data in both the protected class and subject fields of the ICM system. Additionally, the sections were directed to ensure that their respective policies and procedures were amended to effect this change. The actions taken by the Department of Justice to require sections to record data in the protected class and subject fields are consistent with our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To strengthen the Division's ability to manage and report on the four sections' enforcement efforts, the Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division should, as the Division considers options to address its case management system needs, determine how sections should be required to record data on the reasons for closing matters in the system in order to be able to systematically assess and take actions to address issues identified.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Civil Rights Division

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In September 2009, we reported on the Civil Rights Division's Interactive Case Management System (ICM), including what additional data could be collected using ICM to assist in reporting on the enforcement efforts of the Division's Employment Litigation, Housing and Civil Enforcement, Voting Rights, and Special Litigation Sections. We found that although congressional committees have requested information regarding reasons the Division did not pursue matters, including instances in which Division managers did not approve a section's recommendation to proceed with the case, ICM did not include a discrete field for capturing the reasons that matters were closed. Furthermore, although ICM does have a comment field in which to capture these data, sections were not required to collect this information. As a result, these data were neither systematically collected nor could the Division easily aggregate them using the comment field. Accordingly, we recommended that as the Division considers options to address its case management system needs, it determine how sections should be required to record data on the reasons for closing matters in the system in order to be able to systematically assess and take actions to address issues identified. In January 2010, the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division stated that the Division concurred with the recommendation, but in reviewing its case management system determined it was unable to add new fields into the current ICM system because it was deemed unstable and adding new fields could cause the system to fail or crash. However, according to the Assistant Attorney General, the Division was working on a stabilization solution, but the solution would require modification of ICM and take approximately 12 months to complete. According to Division documents, after the Division completed its efforts to stabilize ICM, conduct prototype testing, and train staff on the changes to ICM, the "new ICM" went live on May 23, 2011. ICM currently includes a required field for staff within each of the Division's sections (e.g., Employment Litigation, Housing and Civil Enforcement, Voting Rights, and Special Litigation) to document the reason(s) for closing a matter. The actions taken by the Division to include a required field in ICM for staff to record the reason(s) for closing a matter are consistent with our recommendation.

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