Courthouse Construction:

Better Courtroom Use Data Could Enhance Facility Planning and Decisionmaking

GGD-97-39: Published: May 19, 1997. Publicly Released: May 19, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the General Services Administration's (GSA) construction and renovation of federal courtrooms, focusing on: (1) how often and for what purposes courtrooms have been used; and (2) what steps the judiciary is taking to assess space and courtroom usage issues.

GAO noted that: (1) according to the judiciary, the availability of a trial courtroom is an integral part of the judicial process because judges need the flexibility to resolve cases more efficiently; (2) trial courtrooms are expensive to construct, and constructing any unneeded courtrooms would waste taxpayer dollars; (3) the extent to which trial courtrooms are utilized for trials and nontrial activities is one indication of need, but the judiciary does not compile data on how often and for what purposes courtrooms are actually used or have analytically based criteria for determining how many and what types of courtrooms are needed to effectively administer justice; (4) therefore, the judiciary does not have sufficient data to support its practice of providing a trail courtroom for every district judge; (5) GAO's detailed work at seven locations showed that courtroom usage for trials and nontrial activities varied by judge and location; (6) on many of the workdays during 1995, courtrooms were not used at all for these purposes; (7) on average, trial courtrooms were used for trial or nontrial purposes about 54 percent of all the days that they could have been used; (8) courtrooms were used for trials less than one-third of the days, and the use of courtrooms for trials varied by location; (9) at the six locations with more than one trial courtroom, all courtrooms at any location were seldom used for trials or nontrial activities the same day; (10) senior judges used the courtrooms assigned to them for trials and nontrial activities considerably less frequently than active judges; (11) GAO's discussions with district judges in the various locations showed diverse opinions about changes to current courtroom configurations or use practices; (12) all preferred having their own courtrooms to help them resolve cases, but their views on the one judge, one courtroom practice were mixed; (13) the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AOUSC) considers the data GAO developed limited because GAO did not capture such other factors as "latent" use or cases that settle just before a scheduled trial, leaving a courtroom available that cannot be easily rescheduled; (14) the judiciary recognizes that it has not developed the data or performed the research to support its practice of providing a trial courtroom for every district judge; and (15) the judiciary has taken some actions intended to help it better understand courtroom usage, but these actions do not include a plan to produce data on the actual use of courtrooms for trials or nontrial activities or to systematically quantify the latent and other usage factors.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: AOC has hired Ernst & Young to examine space use issues including courtroom utilization. When staff became available, the plan is to examine Ernst & Young's study to see if it will have an impact on courtroom utilization and the recommendation. It is GAO's view that a followup assignment will be needed to adequately assess any AOC changes in this area and their applicability to the recommendations.

    Recommendation: The Director, AOUSC, the Director, Federal Judicial Center (FJC), and the Judicial Conference of the United States' committees on Court Administration and Case Management and Security, Space and Facilities should design and implement cost-effective research to fully examine the courtroom usage issue to form a better basis for determining the number and type of courtrooms needed, as well as whether each district judge needs a dedicated courtroom. This effort should include establishing criteria for determining effective courtroom utilization and a mechanism for collecting and analyzing data at a representative number of locations so that trends can be identified over time and better insights obtained on court activity and courtroom usage.

    Agency Affected: Judicial Conference of the United States: Committee on Security, Space, and Facilities

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: AOC has hired Ernst & Young to examine space use issues including courtroom utilization. When staff became available, the plan is to examine Ernst & Young's study to see if it will have an impact on courtroom utilization and the recommendation. It is GAO's view that a followup assignment will be needed to adequately assess any AOC changes in this area and their applicability to the recommendations.

    Recommendation: The Director, AOUSC, the Director, Federal Judicial Center (FJC), and the Judicial Conference of the United States' committees on Court Administration and Case Management and Security, Space and Facilities should design and implement cost-effective research to fully examine the courtroom usage issue to form a better basis for determining the number and type of courtrooms needed, as well as whether each district judge needs a dedicated courtroom. This effort should include establishing criteria for determining effective courtroom utilization and a mechanism for collecting and analyzing data at a representative number of locations so that trends can be identified over time and better insights obtained on court activity and courtroom usage.

    Agency Affected: Judicial Conference of the United States: Committee on Court Administration and Case Management

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: AOC has hired Ernst & Young to examine space use issues including courtroom utilization. When staff became available, the plan is to examine Ernst & Young's study to see if it will have an impact on courtroom utilization and the recommendation. It is GAO's view that a followup assignment will be needed to adequately assess any AOC changes in this area and their applicability to the recommendations.

    Recommendation: The Director, AOUSC, the Director, Federal Judicial Center (FJC), and the Judicial Conference of the United States' committees on Court Administration and Case Management and Security, Space and Facilities should design and implement cost-effective research to fully examine the courtroom usage issue to form a better basis for determining the number and type of courtrooms needed, as well as whether each district judge needs a dedicated courtroom. This effort should include establishing criteria for determining effective courtroom utilization and a mechanism for collecting and analyzing data at a representative number of locations so that trends can be identified over time and better insights obtained on court activity and courtroom usage.

    Agency Affected: Administrative Office of the United States Courts

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: AOC has hired Ernst & Young to examine space use issues including courtroom utilization. When staff became available, the plan is to examine Ernst & Young's study to see if it will have an impact on courtroom utilization and the recommendation. It is GAO's view that a followup assignment will be needed to adequately assess any AOC changes in this area and their applicability to the recommendations.

    Recommendation: The Director, AOUSC, the Director, FJC, and the Judicial Conference's committees on Court Administration and Case Management and Security, Space and Facilities should design and implement cost-effective research to fully examine the courtroom usage issue to form a better basis for determining the number and type of courtrooms needed, as well as whether each district judge needs a dedicated courtroom. This effort should include designing and implementing a methodology for capturing and analyzing data on latent usage, courtroom scheduling, and other factors that may substantially affect the relationship between the availability of courtrooms and judges' ability to effectively administer justice.

    Agency Affected: Administrative Office of the United States Courts

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: AOC has hired Ernst & Young to examine space use issues including courtroom utilization. When staff became available, the plan is to examine Ernst & Young's study to see if it will have an impact on courtroom utilization and the recommendation. It is GAO's view that a followup assignment will be needed to adequately assess any AOC changes in this area and their applicability to the recommendations.

    Recommendation: The Director, AOUSC, the Director, FJC, and the Judicial Conference's committees on Court Administration and Case Management and Security, Space and Facilities should design and implement cost-effective research to fully examine the courtroom usage issue to form a better basis for determining the number and type of courtrooms needed, as well as whether each district judge needs a dedicated courtroom. This effort should include designing and implementing a methodology for capturing and analyzing data on latent usage, courtroom scheduling, and other factors that may substantially affect the relationship between the availability of courtrooms and judges' ability to effectively administer justice.

    Agency Affected: Administrative Office of the United States Courts

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: AOC has hired Ernst & Young to examine space use issues including courtroom utilization. When staff became available, the plan is to examine Ernst & Young's study to see if it will have an impact on courtroom utilization and the recommendation. It is GAO's view that a followup assignment will be needed to adequately assess any AOC changes in this area and their applicability to the recommendations.

    Recommendation: The Director, AOUSC, the Director, FJC, and the Judicial Conference's committees on Court Administration and Case Management and Security, Space and Facilities should design and implement cost-effective research to fully examine the courtroom usage issue to form a better basis for determining the number and type of courtrooms needed, as well as whether each district judge needs a dedicated courtroom. This effort should include designing and implementing a methodology for capturing and analyzing data on latent usage, courtroom scheduling, and other factors that may substantially affect the relationship between the availability of courtrooms and judges' ability to effectively administer justice.

    Agency Affected: Judicial Conference of the United States: Committee on Court Administration and Case Management

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: AOC has hired Ernst & Young to examine space use issues including courtroom utilization. When staff became available, the plan is to examine Ernst & Young's study to see if it will have an impact on courtroom utilization and the recommendation. It is GAO's view that a followup assignment will be needed to adequately assess any AOC changes in this area and their applicability to the recommendations.

    Recommendation: The Director, AOUSC, the Director, FJC, and the Judicial Conference's committees on Court Administration and Case Management and Security, Space and Facilities should design and implement cost-effective research to fully examine the courtroom usage issue to form a better basis for determining the number and type of courtrooms needed, as well as whether each district judge needs a dedicated courtroom. This effort should include designing and implementing a methodology for capturing and analyzing data on latent usage, courtroom scheduling, and other factors that may substantially affect the relationship between the availability of courtrooms and judges' ability to effectively administer justice.

    Agency Affected: Judicial Conference of the United States: Committee on Security, Space, and Facilities

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: AOC has hired Ernst & Young to examine space use issues including courtroom utilization. When staff became available, the plan is to examine Ernst & Young's study to see if it will have an impact on courtroom utilization and the recommendation. It is GAO's view that a followup assignment will be needed to adequately assess any AOC changes in this area and their applicability to the recommendations.

    Recommendation: The Director, AOUSC, the Director, FJC, and the Judicial Conference's committees on Court Administration and Case Management and Security, Space and Facilities should design and implement cost-effective research to fully examine the courtroom usage issue to form a better basis for determining the number and type of courtrooms needed, as well as whether each district judge needs a dedicated courtroom. This effort should include using these data and criteria to explore whether the one judge, one courtroom practice is needed to promote efficient courtroom management or whether other courtroom assignment alternatives exist.

    Agency Affected: Judicial Conference of the United States: Committee on Security, Space, and Facilities

  9. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: AOC has hired Ernst & Young to examine space use issues including courtroom utilization. When staff became available, the plan is to examine Ernst & Young's study to see if it will have an impact on courtroom utilization and the recommendation. It is GAO's view that a followup assignment will be needed to adequately assess any AOC changes in this area and their applicability to the recommendations.

    Recommendation: The Director, AOUSC, the Director, FJC, and the Judicial Conference's committees on Court Administration and Case Management and Security, Space and Facilities should design and implement cost-effective research to fully examine the courtroom usage issue to form a better basis for determining the number and type of courtrooms needed, as well as whether each district judge needs a dedicated courtroom. This effort should include using these data and criteria to explore whether the one judge, one courtroom practice is needed to promote efficient courtroom management or whether other courtroom assignment alternatives exist.

    Agency Affected: Federal Judicial Center

  10. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: AOC has hired Ernst & Young to examine space use issues including courtroom utilization. When staff became available, the plan is to examine Ernst & Young's study to see if it will have an impact on courtroom utilization and the recommendation. It is GAO's view that a followup assignment will be needed to adequately assess any AOC changes in this area and their applicability to the recommendations.

    Recommendation: The Director, AOUSC, the Director, FJC, and the Judicial Conference's committees on Court Administration and Case Management and Security, Space and Facilities should design and implement cost-effective research to fully examine the courtroom usage issue to form a better basis for determining the number and type of courtrooms needed, as well as whether each district judge needs a dedicated courtroom. This effort should include using these data and criteria to explore whether the one judge, one courtroom practice is needed to promote efficient courtroom management or whether other courtroom assignment alternatives exist.

    Agency Affected: Judicial Conference of the United States: Committee on Court Administration and Case Management

  11. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: AOC has hired Ernst & Young to examine space use issues including courtroom utilization. When staff became available, the plan is to examine Ernst & Young's study to see if it will have an impact on courtroom utilization and the recommendation. It is GAO's view that a followup assignment will be needed to adequately assess any AOC changes in this area and their applicability to the recommendations.

    Recommendation: The Director, AOUSC, the Director, FJC, and the Judicial Conference's committees on Court Administration and Case Management and Security, Space and Facilities should design and implement cost-effective research to fully examine the courtroom usage issue to form a better basis for determining the number and type of courtrooms needed, as well as whether each district judge needs a dedicated courtroom. This effort should include using these data and criteria to explore whether the one judge, one courtroom practice is needed to promote efficient courtroom management or whether other courtroom assignment alternatives exist.

    Agency Affected: Administrative Office of the United States Courts

  12. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: AOC has hired Ernst & Young to examine space use issues including courtroom utilization. When staff became available, the plan is to examine Ernst & Young's study to see if it will have an impact on courtroom utilization and the recommendation. It is GAO's view that a followup assignment will be needed to adequately assess any AOC changes in this area and their applicability to the recommendations.

    Recommendation: The Director, AOUSC, the Director, FJC, and the Judicial Conference's committees on Court Administration and Case Management and Security, Space and Facilities should design and implement cost-effective research to fully examine the courtroom usage issue to form a better basis for determining the number and type of courtrooms needed, as well as whether each district judge needs a dedicated courtroom. This effort should include establishing an action plan with time frames for implementing and overseeing these efforts.

    Agency Affected: Federal Judicial Center

  13. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: AOC has hired Ernst & Young to examine space use issues including courtroom utilization. When staff became available, the plan is to examine Ernst & Young's study to see if it will have an impact on courtroom utilization and the recommendation. It is GAO's view that a followup assignment will be needed to adequately assess any AOC changes in this area and their applicability to the recommendations.

    Recommendation: The Director, AOUSC, the Director, FJC, and the Judicial Conference's committees on Court Administration and Case Management and Security, Space and Facilities should design and implement cost-effective research to fully examine the courtroom usage issue to form a better basis for determining the number and type of courtrooms needed, as well as whether each district judge needs a dedicated courtroom. This effort should include establishing an action plan with time frames for implementing and overseeing these efforts.

    Agency Affected: Administrative Office of the United States Courts

  14. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: AOC has hired Ernst & Young to examine space use issues including courtroom utilization. When staff became available, the plan is to examine Ernst & Young's study to see if it will have an impact on courtroom utilization and the recommendation. It is GAO's view that a followup assignment will be needed to adequately assess any AOC changes in this area and their applicability to the recommendations.

    Recommendation: The Director, AOUSC, the Director, FJC, and the Judicial Conference's committees on Court Administration and Case Management and Security, Space and Facilities should design and implement cost-effective research to fully examine the courtroom usage issue to form a better basis for determining the number and type of courtrooms needed, as well as whether each district judge needs a dedicated courtroom. This effort should include establishing an action plan with time frames for implementing and overseeing these efforts.

    Agency Affected: Judicial Conference of the United States: Committee on Court Administration and Case Management

  15. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: AOC has hired Ernst & Young to examine space use issues including courtroom utilization. When staff became available, the plan is to examine Ernst & Young's study to see if it will have an impact on courtroom utilization and the recommendation. It is GAO's view that a followup assignment will be needed to adequately assess any AOC changes in this area and their applicability to the recommendations.

    Recommendation: The Director, AOUSC, the Director, Federal Judicial Center (FJC), and the Judicial Conference of the United States' committees on Court Administration and Case Management and Security, Space and Facilities should design and implement cost-effective research to fully examine the courtroom usage issue to form a better basis for determining the number and type of courtrooms needed, as well as whether each district judge needs a dedicated courtroom. This effort should include establishing criteria for determining effective courtroom utilization and a mechanism for collecting and analyzing data at a representative number of locations so that trends can be identified over time and better insights obtained on court activity and courtroom usage.

    Agency Affected: Judicial Conference of the United States: Committee on Court Administration and Case Management

  16. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: AOC has hired Ernst & Young to examine space use issues including courtroom utilization. When staff became available, the plan is to examine Ernst & Young's study to see if it will have an impact on courtroom utilization and the recommendation. It is GAO's view that a followup assignment will be needed to adequately assess any AOC changes in this area and their applicability to the recommendations.

    Recommendation: The Director, AOUSC, the Director, FJC, and the Judicial Conference's committees on Court Administration and Case Management and Security, Space and Facilities should design and implement cost-effective research to fully examine the courtroom usage issue to form a better basis for determining the number and type of courtrooms needed, as well as whether each district judge needs a dedicated courtroom. This effort should include establishing an action plan with time frames for implementing and overseeing these efforts.

    Agency Affected: Judicial Conference of the United States: Committee on Security, Space, and Facilities

 

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