The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts relies on IT systems to manage information to support its lines of business, including court administration, probation, and pretrial services. However, insufficient oversight and incomplete IT management guidance have hampered the agency’s overall operational success, according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

In their review, GAO found that the office had taken steps to implement some IT management practices, but the implementation of these practices varied. For example, to address its IT workforce needs the office substantially implemented practices in the performance management area but was less successful in recruitment and hiring and training and development.

In addition, the report identified gaps in the cybersecurity skills of the IT workforce and found that the office didn’t have a recruiting strategy for IT staff and did not establish a training program for its IT staff.

“The agency’s departments are to address training on an individual or project basis, therefore [the office] didn’t establish an enterprise-wide training program. However, fully addressing practices in these areas would help ensure that its IT workforce has the knowledge and skills to tackle pressing IT issues,” GAO stated.

GAO also found that regarding project planning practices the office had developed life cycle cost estimates and schedules for each project, but none of the cost estimates were comprehensive and none of the schedules were well-constructed. Insufficient oversight and incomplete IT project management guidance have hampered the projects and may have contributed to cost increases and schedule overruns, according to GAO.

“Full implementation of these practices would help ensure that projects meet user needs and are delivered on schedule and within budget,” the report noted.

Additionally, the GAO noted that a chief information officer (CIO) with enterprise-wide authority could address IT oversight and guidance shortcomings, “but such a position does not exist at the office.”

Agency officials told GAO that the associate director for the Department of Technology Services serves as the principal IT advisor to the director, but the associate director does not have oversight of other office units that separately manage IT workforces and projects.

While the judicial branch does not have a statutory requirement to establish a CIO, leading organizations have adopted and used an enterprise-wide approach to managing IT under the leadership of a CIO, GAO noted.

GAO made 18 recommendations, including that the office improves its IT workforce planning and management, enhance its IT project management practices, and establish a CIO position with enterprise-wide responsibility. The office said it would evaluate the recommendations and determine what improvements to make based on its decentralized management model.

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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.