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The Federal Judicial Center is developing and implementing computer-based systems, collectively known as Courtran, to automate various activities of Federal courts. The GAO reviewed some of the Center's systems development and transfer practices, the need for increased Center-Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts coordination, and the plans to automate the Federal judiciary.
The GAO found that the Federal Judicial Center has not used good software design, development, and implementation practices and has not performed all the steps essential to properly develop and implement software systems. The Center has not always fully identified and analyzed users' needs, alternatives, benefits, and costs before undertaking software development work.
Conversion to automated systems has not been as smooth as it should have been because conversion plans, procedures, and necessary operations and maintenance manuals have not been prepared. Although systems have been tested and operated in parallel at great length, progress toward moving systems out of the developmental stage and into full operation remains negligible.
The Center has taken some steps to: (1) determine which Courtran systems are cost beneficial; (2) identify which courts should use the various systems; (3) determine the most effective hardware and communication configuration for the systems; (4) require courts to prepare conversion plans and procedures before implementing new systems; and (5) require clerks of the court to formally approve all requests to modify automated systems.
Although Congress expected the Center and the Administrative Office to work together to improve and support Federal court operations, little coordination has occurred. As a result, the Federal judiciary's automatic data processing needs are supported by two separate organizations, and neither the Center nor the Administrative Office is prepared for the transfer of operational and maintenance responsibilities for Courtran systems.