U.S. Office of Special Counsel: Strategy for Reducing Persistent Backlog of Cases Should Be Provided to Congress: GAO-04-36

March 2004
GAO Reports;3/8/2004, p1
Government Document
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel has not been consistently processing cases within statutory time limits, creating backlogs. Because the backlogs are of concern to the Congress, this report provides information on how many cases were processed within statutory time limits, the actions taken by OSC to address case processing delays and backlog, and the agency's perspective on the adequacy of its resources and our analysis of this perspective. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) met the 240-day statutory time limit for processing prohibited personnel practice cases about 77 percent of the time from fiscal year 1997 through 2003 and met the 15-day limit for processing whistleblower disclosure cases about 26 percent of the time. OSC took an average of more than six months to process a whistleblower disclosure case. Over the seven-year period, 34 percent of the prohibited personnel practices cases were backlogged as were 96 percent of the whistleblower disclosure cases. In an attempt to address workload issues, in 2001 OSC streamlined processes and hired additional staff. OSC data indicate that the merger of the agency's investigators and attorneys into a single unit increased the average number of cases processed per individual from June 2001 to June 2002. A case priority processing system for prohibited personnel practices and whistleblower disclosure cases allowed OSC to process more important cases more expeditiously, according to OSC. OSC officials told us that the primary reason the agency has not been more successful in meeting the statutory time limits for its cases, particularly those involving whistleblower disclosure, is lack of an adequate number of staff. Our analysis of OSC data indicates, however, that even with increased staffing, the agency was not able to process a significantly larger number of cases within the time limits. OSC noted that staff turnover and the need to train new staff lowered its productivity. Officials also noted the difficulty in meeting the 15-day limit for processing whistleblower disclosure cases, but have not proposed an alternative time limit. In external documents to Congress, OSC has discussed its case processing and backlog difficulties, but has not developed a comprehensive strategy for dealing with them. Presenting such a strategy would provide Congress with information that it needs for oversight and resource allocation.


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