Federal Judiciary Space:

Long-Range Planning Process Needs Revision

GGD-93-132: Published: Sep 28, 1993. Publicly Released: Oct 6, 1993.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts' (AOUSC) projections for its long-range space needs, focusing on the reasonableness and reliability of the methodology used to project its needs.

GAO found that: (1) the methodology AOUSC used to project its future space needs was not sufficiently reliable to base congressional authorization or funding approval for new court space construction and renovation; (2) district space allocation varies significantly because AOUSC does not apply its planning assumptions equally among all districts, account for caseload fluctuations over time, and classify districts to reflect their actual staffing and space needs; (3) AOUSC baselines do not accurately reflect the space needs for all districts because staffing imbalances and local representatives' perceptions regarding deficits have affected baseline computations; (4) although future projections will continue to vary, alternative methods for projecting caseloads could provide more reliable estimates; and (5) improvements are needed in the AOUSC planning process to ensure that the baselines do not exceed the amount of space needed.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • 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 improve the reliability of the estimates of future space needs, the Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts should revise the long-range planning process by reducing the subjectivity of the process by eliminating the use of arbitrary selected regression models and by verifying the information provided by the local representatives.

    Agency Affected: Administrative Office of the United States Courts

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: AOUSC officials told GAO that they have improved the reliability involved in projecting caseloads by eliminating the subjectivity in choosing regression models. AOUSC officials informed GAO that they now use a defined and consistent projection methodology.

    Recommendation: To improve the reliability of the estimates of future space needs, the Director of the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts should revise the long-range planning process by identifying and using a standard statistical technique that would generate accurate caseload projections with defined confidence intervals.

    Agency Affected: Administrative Office of the United States Courts

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: AOUSC worked with the National Center for State Courts to develop plans to test statistical techniques, such as time series analysis, to see if they generate more accurate projections. At a November 1994 meeting, AOUSC provided GAO with documents outlining the results of its test of the ARIMA model approach. According to AOUSC, it has adopted the ARIMA model approach as the primary method in developing projections for the long-range plans. The new procedures were implemented and integrated into the planning process in early 1997.

    Recommendation: The Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts should revise the long-range planning process to require that baselines be established that reflect AOUSC assumptions regarding the relationships between caseloads, staff needs, and space requirements. These revised procedures should include a mechanism for verifying that deficits represent actual unmet space needs.

    Agency Affected: Administrative Office of the United States Courts

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The AOC has changed its long-range planning process since this recommendation was made in 1993. However, GAO has been unable to assess whether its recommendation has been fully implemented because of the availability of resources. To assess whether AOC's actions address the recommendations would require a followup job.

    Recommendation: The Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts should revise its long-range planning process to ensure that all districts are treated consistently by devising a method for classifying districts that would consider case complexity in addition to caseload.

    Agency Affected: Administrative Office of the United States Courts

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to AOUSC, it changed its method for classifying the 94 districts when establishing ratios for converting caseload projections into staffing projections. This method, known as cluster analysis, allows AOUSC to use multiple factors, such as case complexity, rather than using only total caseload within the district. AOUSC showed GAO the results of its cluster analysis research in attempting to refine its method for grouping districts. AOUSC says that it now regularly uses cluster analysis in preparing and updating long-range plans. In addition, AOUSC's new forecasting approach uses time series analysis (also known as ARIMA modeling), which has a variety of parameters that can be changed to create a distinct model for a given series of data. The time series model applies more statistical rigor to the data and produces confidence intervals, a requirement more sought. As of July 1997, the changes had been incorporated into the AOUSC's Long-Range Planning Process.

    Recommendation: The Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts should revise its long-range planning process to ensure that all districts are treated consistently by preparing updated space plans for all districts whenever changes are made to the assumptions that affect staff/space allocations.

    Agency Affected: Administrative Office of the United States Courts

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to AOC, it is continuing to update long-range plans for judicial districts that were completed earlier. AOC said that, to date, 22 plans have been republished, 16 plans are in some stage of analysis and republishing, and 6 plans are under development to seek court input in the updating process. AOC's goal is to update all plans within 2-3 years of the original date of each plan.

    Recommendation: To improve the reliability of the estimates of future space needs, the Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts should revise the long-range planning process by limiting the time span covered by the projections to 10 years.

    Agency Affected: Administrative Office of the United States Courts

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: AOC has changed the information that it gives to GSA for plan development. Whenever a decision is made to proceed on a particular building project, AOC now provides GSA with detailed 10-year space requirements for prospectus development and an overall summary of needs at the 30-year point for purposes of site planning.

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