Congressional watchdog faults judiciary’s IT oversight, cost overruns

A bronze statue titled “Justice Delayed, Justice Denied” depicting a figure of Justice is seen on the Albert V. Bryan United States Courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia, U.S. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

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  • GAO says judiciary should hire a chief information officer
  • Report details cost overruns in major judiciary IT projects

(Reuters) – Insufficient oversight and agency guidance have hampered some of the federal judiciary’s biggest tech projects and led to millions of dollars in cost overruns, including for a closely watched new system to process judges’ financial disclosure reports, a Congressional watchdog said Thursday.

The Government Accountability Office in a report faulted the judiciary’s administrative agency for inefficiencies in how its information technology workforce and projects are managed and for not having a chief information officer to oversee them.

The GAO said gaps exist in how the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts trains its IT staff and recruits workers with cybersecurity skills and that the agency’s biggest IT projects lacked comprehensive cost estimates, leading to budget overruns.

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The report was requested by Democratic Representatives Gerry Connolly and Hank Johnson of Georgia, who in a joint statement said the report “does not paint a pretty picture” and urged the Administrative Office to hire a CIO, one of the GAO’s many recommendations.

U.S. District Judge Roslynn Mauskopf, the Administrative Office’s director, in a letter responding to the report said it was considering organizational changes, including naming a CIO, but the costs of GAO’s recommendations “raise some concerns.”

The projects examined by the GAO include a new electronic filing system for judges’ financial disclosure reports that was expected to cost $27.1 million and be done by 2024 but now has projected costs of $36 million.

That was before President Joe Biden in May signed into law the Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act, which imposes new stock disclosure requirements and requires the Administrative Office to create a public online database of disclosure forms.

The GAO said judiciary officials are still analyzing the implications of that law.

A new cloud-based case management system for probation and pretrial services officers to supervise defendants out on bail or on supervised release was originally planned in 2016 to be done by 2019 at a cost of $24.5 million.

But it now is expected to cost up to $100 million based on a purchase agreement with a vendor and to be done by April 2024, the GAO said.

Gabe Roth, executive director of the court reform group Fix the Court, called the GAO audit “a wake-up call” as the judiciary’ moves forward with plans to modernize its online court records system, PACER, on its own.

The judiciary has resisted reforms called for in a bill pending in Congress called the Open Courts Act that would modernize the system and make online records free for the public.

Read more:

U.S. Justice Department probing cyber breach of federal court records system

U.S. judiciary warns judges of security risks from new financial disclosure system

Fed judiciary says yes to free PACER searches. Here are the details so far

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Nate Raymond

Thomson Reuters

Nate Raymond reports on the federal judiciary and litigation. He can be reached at nate.raymond@thomsonreuters.com.

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