Judiciary Seeks New Judgeships, Reaffirms Need for Enhanced Security

The Judicial Conference of the United States, the Judiciary’s policy-making body, today addressed two of its most pressing issues – a proposal to add 79 new judgeships (pdf) for courts across the country and initiatives to improve both personal and courthouse security.

“These security initiatives are necessary to keep judges, their families and staffs, and the public visiting our courthouses safe,” said Judge David McKeague. “We need to act on the lessons we learned from events of the past year,” said McKeague, who is chair of the Judicial Conference’s Judicial Security Committee, in remarks at today’s biannual session of the Conference.

Last fall, the Judicial Conference approved a package of security enhancements, including a request for legislation to protect judges’ personally identifiable information on the internet. The Daniel Anderl Judicial Security and Privacy Act, named after the murdered son of Judge Esther Salas, was introduced last fall in both houses of Congress.

Daniel was shot and killed in the doorway of the family’s New Jersey home in July by a litigant who found the judge’s home address on the internet and posed as a courier. The judge’s husband was seriously wounded and continues to heal. The legislation had bipartisan support but was not acted on before Congress adjourned in December. The cosponsors have indicated they will reintroduce it soon.

The Judicial Conference also supported increased funding for the U.S. Marshals Service. In the fiscal year 2021 appropriations bill, Congress provided funds for the Marshals Service to replace outdated security systems at judges’ homes and also increased funding for the Marshals Service Open Source Intelligence Unit, which monitors threats on the internet and dark web.

In addition to the tragic attack at Judge Salas’ home, civil unrest in the past year resulted in damage to over 53 courthouses across the country, a sustained attack on the courthouse in Portland, Oregon, and the violent breach of the U.S. Capitol. As a result, the Judiciary will be submitting a supplemental funding request to Congress that will address existing vulnerabilities at courthouses.

“These incidents demonstrated the increasing threat to our courthouses and their occupants,” McKeague said. “Our security needs require urgent attention to ensure that these types of things don’t happen again.”

With regard to judgeships, the recommendations approved today by the Judicial Conference would ask Congress to create two new court of appeals judgeships and 77 new district judgeships. The Conference also requested that nine temporary district judgeships be converted to permanent status.

Congress last enacted a comprehensive bill to increase the number of appellate and district judgeships in 1990. A total of 34 district court judgeships were created between 1999 and 2003 as part of other legislation, mostly appropriations bills. No new court of appeals judgeships have been created in more than 30 years.

Since the last omnibus judgeship bill was enacted, the caseload in the district courts had risen 47 percent (civil cases were up 41 percent and criminal filings rose 72 percent) by the end of fiscal year 2019, before the COVID­-19 pandemic began to impact filings. As of fiscal year 2020, filings in the courts of appeals had risen 12 percent since 1990.

Even with the decline in district court filings due to the pandemic, in fiscal year 2020, weighted filings were above 500 per judgeship in 17 of the 26 courts in which the Conference is recommending additional judgeships or the conversion of existing temporary judgeships to permanent status. Weighted case filings are a measure that the Judiciary uses to account for the varying level of resources cases require.

Weighted case filings exceeded 600 per judgeship in 14 of these courts, 700 per judgeship in six courts, and 900 per judgeship in two courts.

The 26-member Judicial Conference (pdf) is the policy-making body for the federal court system. By statute, the Chief Justice of the United States serves as its presiding officer and its members are the chief judges of the 13 courts of appeals, a district judge from each of the 12 geographic circuits, and the chief judge of the Court of International Trade.

The Conference convenes twice a year to consider administrative and policy issues affecting the court system, and to make recommendations to Congress concerning legislation involving the Judicial Branch. The Conference conducted its regularly scheduled biannual meeting today by teleconference due to travel limitations because of the pandemic.

More from: info@uscourts.gov

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    As of October 2020, the Departments of Defense (DOD) and Veterans Affairs (VA) had jointly developed 22 clinical practice guidelines (VA/DOD CPG) that address specific health conditions, including those related to chronic diseases, mental health issues, pain management, and rehabilitation. Such guidelines are important as military and veteran populations may have different health care needs than civilians due to involvement in combat or occupational exposures (e.g., fumes from burn pits) that may amplify physical and psychological stresses. GAO found that DOD and VA considered the health care needs of these populations throughout the guideline development process and that the guidelines include information about these health care needs in different sections. In some cases, the guidelines include treatment recommendations that specifically address the health care needs of the military and veteran populations. In other instances, they may include information about the prevalence of a specific condition for these populations, among other information. Each of the military services (Army, Air Force, and Navy) has its own process for distributing VA/DOD CPGs to providers at their military treatment facilities (MTF). However, DOD's Defense Health Agency (DHA) is in the process of assuming administrative operations—to include distributing guidelines—for all of the military services' MTFs through an incremental transition process that is to be completed by the end of September 2021. While DHA officials acknowledged that they need to develop a uniform distribution process for the guidelines once they complete the transition, MTF providers can currently access the guidelines through VA's designated website and DOD's electronic health record systems. Congress directed DOD to implement VA/DOD CPGs, using means such as providing education and training, and to monitor MTFs' implementation of them. However, GAO found that DHA and the military services are not systematically monitoring MTFs' implementation of these guidelines. While the Army tracks VA/DOD CPG education and training at its MTFs, officials with DHA, the Navy, and the Air Force explained that they have not been monitoring MTF implementation of these guidelines. DHA officials acknowledged that they need to develop a monitoring process as they assume administrative and oversight responsibilities for the military services' MTFs, but have not yet developed a plan to do so. Without a systematic process to monitor MTF implementation of these guidelines, DHA does not know the extent to which MTF providers may be using VA/DOD CPGs to reduce the variability and improve the quality of health care services provided—factors that may contribute to better health outcomes across the military health system. Through DOD's TRICARE program, eligible beneficiaries may receive care from providers at MTFs or from civilian providers. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 required DOD to establish a program to develop, implement, update, and monitor clinical practice guidelines, which are evidence-based treatment recommendations to improve the consistency and quality of care delivered by MTF providers. The Act also included a provision for GAO to assess issues related to the military health system, including the process of ensuring that providers adhere to clinical practice guidelines, and to report annually for 4 years. This is GAO's fourth report based on the Act. This report describes (1) how the process for developing the guidelines considers the health care needs of the military and veteran populations, (2) how they are distributed by the military services to their providers and how providers access them, and (3) the extent to which DHA and the military services monitor MTF implementation of them, among other things. GAO reviewed relevant policies and guidance; analyzed each of the 22 CPGs; and interviewed officials with DOD, the military services, and VA. GAO recommends that DHA work with the military services to develop and implement a systematic process to monitor MTFs' implementation of VA/DOD CPGs. DOD concurred with this recommendation. For more information, contact Debra A. Draper at (202) 512-7114 or draperd@gao.gov.
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  • Priority Open Recommendations: Social Security Administration
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In April 2020, GAO identified seven open priority recommendations for the Social Security Administration (SSA). Since then, SSA has implemented four of those recommendations by: (1) updating its system to ensure waivers for Disability Insurance overpayments over $1,000 are processed correctly; (2) taking steps to address Disability Insurance overpayments that result from the concurrent receipt of Federal Employees' Compensation Act benefits; (3) establishing an Enterprise Risk Management framework and council to address cyber risks in the context of other risks and their potential impact on SSA's mission; and (4) strengthening oversight of representative payees to help ensure they are managing beneficiary funds appropriately. In May 2021, GAO identified one additional open priority recommendation for SSA, bringing the total number to four. These recommendations involve the following areas: ensuring program integrity; and protecting vulnerable beneficiaries. SSA's continued attention to these issues could lead to significant improvements in government operations. Why GAO Did This Study Priority open recommendations are the GAO recommendations that warrant priority attention from heads of key departments or agencies because their implementation could save large amounts of money; improve congressional and/or executive branch decision-making on major issues; eliminate mismanagement, fraud, and abuse; or ensure that programs comply with laws and funds are legally spent, among other benefits. Since 2015 GAO has sent letters to selected agencies to highlight the importance of implementing such recommendations. For more information, contact Elizabeth Curda at (202) 512-4040 or curdae@gao.gov.
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  • Priority Open Recommendations: Office of Science and Technology Policy
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found As of June 2021, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) had 11 open recommendations. We are identifying three recommendations from our prior work as priorities for implementation by OSTP. These three recommendations relate to strengthening interagency collaboration on science and technology issues. As the challenges of the 21st century grow, it is increasingly important for executive agencies to consider how the federal government can maximize performance and results through improved collaboration. Our prior work has shown that many issues, including those in science and technology, cut across multiple agencies. In this regard, OSTP plays a critical role in bringing agencies together under the committees and subcommittees of the National Science and Technology Council. This mechanism provides a valuable opportunity for agencies to coordinate on implementing an administration's research and development priorities and to address cross-cutting science and technology issues, such as scientific integrity, public access to federally funded research results, reliability of research results, supply chains for critical materials, and others. Strengthening interagency coordination in these areas could help amplify the synergistic effects of related research conducted by different agencies, avoid unnecessary overlapping or duplicative research and development efforts, and share lessons learned or coordinate actions to address science and technology issues. Why GAO Did This Study Priority open recommendations are the GAO recommendations that warrant priority attention from heads of key departments or agencies because their implementation could save large amounts of money; improve congressional and/or executive branch decision-making on major issues; eliminate mismanagement, fraud, and abuse; or ensure that programs comply with laws and funds are legally spent, among other benefits. Since 2015 GAO has sent letters to selected agencies to highlight the importance of implementing such recommendations. This is the first year that we are providing a priority recommendation letter to OSTP. For more information, contact John Neumann at (202) 512-6888 or neumannj@gao.gov.
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  • Small Business Innovation Research: Three Agencies Made Awards to Businesses Majority-Owned by Investment Companies and Funds
    In U.S GAO News
    Under the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, participating agencies can make awards to small businesses majority-owned by multiple venture capital operating companies, hedge funds, or private equity firms (investment companies and funds). In fiscal years 2019 and 2020, four of the 11 agencies participating in the program received proposals from small businesses majority-owned by investment companies and funds (i.e., qualified small businesses), and three of the four made awards to such small businesses. Specifically, the Department of Health and Human Services' National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Department of the Navy within the Department of Defense (DOD), and the Department of Education made a combined 45 awards worth $31.6 million to qualified small businesses during this period. As in previous years, NIH made the most awards and awarded the most funds to qualified small businesses in fiscal years 2019 and 2020. The Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy opened its SBIR awards to qualified small businesses, but did not issue any awards to them during fiscal years 2019 and 2020. Since 2011, when qualified small businesses became eligible for SBIR awards, participating SBIR agencies have considered whether to allow qualified small businesses to participate in the program. Consistent with what GAO found in December 2018, in fiscal years 2019 and 2020, agencies cited several reasons for not allowing qualified small businesses to participate in their SBIR program. For example, officials at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Department of Homeland Security said that they did not pursue the option because qualified small businesses have not expressed much interest in their SBIR programs. In contrast, two component agencies within DOD—the Departments of the Navy and the Air Force—decided to allow qualified small businesses to receive awards and the Department of the Army within DOD was considering doing so. For example, Air Force program officials told us they found that providing SBIR funding to qualified small businesses would expand the Air Force's investment in cutting-edge technologies with both commercial and military uses. NIH—the agency that has made the majority of awards to qualified small businesses—has continued to make awards to qualified small businesses in its SBIR program, as these businesses are subject to the same standard reporting requirements as all other SBIR award recipients. NIH officials also noted that SBIR recipients provide information on specific project impacts, such as technology transfer and commercialization activities, and NIH cited development of a long-release capsule for medication as an example of a successful outcome from an award to a qualified small business. The SBIR program enables federal agencies to support research and development (R&D) projects carried out by small businesses. Participating agencies are required to spend a certain percentage of their extramural R&D obligations on their SBIR program each year. Eleven federal agencies participate in the SBIR program. To qualify for SBIR awards, a small business must meet certain ownership and other eligibility criteria. The Small Business Act, as amended, authorizes agencies to allow participation in their SBIR programs by qualified small businesses. Upon providing a written determination to the Administrator of the Small Business Administration (SBA)—the agency that oversees the SBIR program—and specified congressional committees, agencies may make SBIR awards to qualified small businesses. The Small Business Act, as amended, includes a provision for GAO to conduct a study of the impact of requirements relating to the involvement of investment companies and funds in the SBIR program and submit a report to Congress regarding the study every 3 years. GAO's first review covered fiscal years 2013 and 2014, and in December 2018, GAO issued its second report on this issue, for fiscal years 2015 through 2018. This third report addresses (1) SBIR participating agencies' awards to small businesses that are majority-owned by multiple investment companies and funds in fiscal years 2019 and 2020 and (2) reasons participating agencies cited for allowing or not allowing the participation of qualified small businesses in the SBIR program. GAO reviewed agencies' data on the participation of qualified small businesses and conducted interviews with or obtained written answers from program managers from the 11 participating agencies and SBA. For more information, contact Candice N. Wright at (202) 512-6888 or wrightc@gao.gov.
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  • K-12 Education: U.S. Military Families Generally Have the Same Schooling Options as Other Families and Consider Multiple Factors When Selecting Schools
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Traditional public schools were the most commonly available schooling option for military families near military installations, similar to schools available to U.S. families in general, according to GAO's analysis of Department of Education 2018-19 data. Over 90 percent of installations had at least one public schooling option nearby—such as a charter or magnet school—in addition to traditional public schools (see figure). Similar to U.S. schools in general, rural installations generally had fewer schooling options compared to their more highly populated urban counterparts. In addition, about one-half of the military installations GAO analyzed are in states that offer private school choice programs that provide eligible students with funding toward a non-public education. At least two of these states have private school choice programs specifically for military families. Public School Options within Average Commuting Distance of Military Installations, School Year 2018-19 Note: According to GAO's analysis of the Department of Transportation's 2017 National Household Travel Survey, the average commuting distance for rural and urban areas is 20 miles and 16 miles, respectively. For the purposes of this report, the term “military installations” refers to the 890 DOD installations and Coast Guard units included in GAO's analysis. Military families in GAO's review commonly reported considering housing options and school features when choosing schools for their children; however, they weighed these factors differently to meet their families' specific needs. For example, one reason parents said that they accepted a longer commute was to live in their preferred school district, while other parents said that they prioritized a shorter commute and increased family time over access to specific schools. Military families also reported considering academics, perceived safety, elective courses, and extracurricular activities. To inform their schooling decisions, most parents said that they rely heavily on their personal networks and social media. Why GAO Did This Study Approximately 650,000 military dependent children in the U.S. face various challenges that may affect their schooling, according to DOD. For example, these children transfer schools up to nine times, on average, before high school graduation. Military families frequently cite education issues for their children as a drawback to military service, according to DOD. GAO was asked to examine the schooling options available to school-age dependents of active-duty servicemembers. This report describes (1) available schooling options for school-age military dependent children in the U.S.; and (2) military families' views on factors they consider and resources they use when making schooling decisions. GAO analyzed data on federal education, military installation locations, and commuting patterns to examine schooling options near military installations. GAO also conducted six discussion groups with a total of 40 parents of school-age military dependent children; and interviewed officials at nine military installations that were selected to reflect a range of factors such as availability of different types of schooling options, rural or urban designation, and geographic region. In addition, GAO reviewed relevant federal laws and guidance, and interviewed officials from DOD, the Coast Guard, and representatives of national advocacy groups for military children. For more information, contact Jacqueline M. Nowicki at (617) 788-0580 or nowickij@gao.gov.
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  • Contractor Oversight: Information on the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Report on Burdensome Regulatory Requirements
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found In 2019, the Department of Energy's (DOE)'s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) provided a report to Congress on its findings from its survey of the seven contractors that manage and operate its nuclear security enterprise sites to identify requirements the contractors viewed as burdensome. This survey was congressionally mandated after reports by external groups found that the environment in which NNSA carried out its oversight of such management and operating (M&O) contractors was strained. GAO reviewed information on the following three areas related to NNSA's report: Comparison of NNSA's findings with related reports. GAO found that during the past 10 years, three external groups carried out studies and assessments of the nuclear security enterprise and issued reports citing ways NNSA's oversight has contributed to burden for M&O contractors. These groups were all directed by Congress to complete their studies, which were published between 2014 and 2020. Their reports also cite ways in which NNSA's oversight may have contributed to increased costs or reduced mission capabilities. NNSA's Burdensome Regulatory Requirements report explicitly identifies 91 requirements that M&O contractors found burdensome; these include requirements found in sources such as DOE and NNSA directives, federal regulations, and statutes. NNSA's approach to collecting and reporting information on requirements that M&O contractors identified as burdensome. NNSA first collected information on the requirements the contractors viewed as burdensome, and second, asked the contractors to rate these requirements based on the likelihood that the requirement could be changed and the effects such a change would have on cost savings, morale, recruitment and retention, and mission capability. While NNSA did not provide a definition to its contractors of what constituted a "burdensome" requirement, some contractors created their own definitions, while others told us the definition was understood based on the previously published related reports. GAO interviewed M&O contractor representatives and found that their definitions of what constituted a "burdensome requirement" varied. Also, the seven M&O contractors used different approaches to identify and rate requirements they considered burdensome. However, multiple M&O contractors identified the same requirements, or sources of those requirements, as burdensome. For example, one contractor identified the entire DOE Order for Program and Project Management of the Acquisition of Capital Assets (DOE Order 413.3B) as burdensome, while another contractor identified specific requirements within the same order as burdensome. NNSA actions to address matters that M&O contractors identified as burdensome. In its report, NNSA included a list of 16 matters that it committed to reviewing based on the rating data it collected from M&O contractors and input from members of the Operations and Efficiencies Board, an internal body established to improve coordination and collaboration across NNSA's sites. According to NNSA officials, 10 matters are under revision or have been changed; two matters were reviewed, but no changes were made; and four matters were reviewed, and M&O contractor input will be considered should the regulation undergo a revision in the future. NNSA's list of matters included DOE directives, federal requirements, and an M&O contract change. According to agency officials, NNSA chose to prioritize its review of certain matters because the agency did not have the resources to review all 91 requirements that M&O contractors identified as burdensome. NNSA provided technical comments on a draft of this report, which were incorporated as appropriate. Why GAO Did This Study NNSA is responsible for maintaining a safe, secure, and reliable nuclear stockpile and relies on and oversees contractors who manage and operate its laboratory and production sites. NNSA's M&O contracts include requirements for contractors to adhere to laws, regulations, and DOE and NNSA directives. NNSA also has processes to hold contractors accountable for meeting these requirements. Senate Report 115-262, accompanying the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019, directed NNSA to collect information from its M&O contractors on specific requirements they deemed particularly burdensome and to publish this information in a report. Senate Report 115-262 also included a provision for GAO to review NNSA's report. GAO's report provides information on (1) a comparison of NNSA's findings with findings reported by external groups, (2) NNSA's approach to collecting and reporting information on requirements the M&O contractors identified as burdensome, and (3) NNSA's actions to address the requirements that the M&O contractors identified. GAO reviewed NNSA's 2019 report and supplemental documents and interviewed NNSA officials and M&O contractor representatives. For more information, contact Allison Bawden at (202) 512-3841 or bawdena@gao.gov.
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