Recommendations and Actions
DOL18: Improve the Delivery of Legal Services by the Office of the Solicitor in the Department of Labor
The Department of Labor's (DOL) Office of the Solicitor (SOL) provides legal services to all DOL agencies except the Office of the Inspector General and the adjudication agencies of DOL, such as the Office of Administrative Law Judges. Of its 775 staff members, 442 work in the national office, where they focus primarily on appellate litigation; the review and drafting of regulations, opinions, and legislation; and, to a lesser extent, trial-level litigation. SOL's 333 staff members in 16 field offices concentrate almost exclusively on trial-level litigation; they also take on a limited amount of opinion work.
For the past several years, the legal services requested by DOL's client agencies have exceeded SOL's capacity to serve, and SOL is experiencing a backlog of cases. SOL is taking steps to remedy factors that are contributing to the backlog. These factors include: the difficulties encountered in establishing case priorities; budget requests that do not adequately reflect program agencies' needs for legal services; an inadequate system for tracking attorneys' and paralegals' time; the lack of extensive training opportunities; and an inadequate computer system.
Efforts have been made to increase SOL's productivity through the use of automation, particularly microcomputers, but funding is insufficient for local area networks, replacement equipment, spare parts, and maintenance. Almost two-thirds of SOL's microcomputer equipment is more than six years old; yet SOL has money only to pay for spare parts and maintenance, not to purchase new equipment. SOL has a total of more than 1,400 microcomputers, printers, and related pieces of equipment, but in fiscal year 1993, it was able to purchase only one new item of equipment--a printer.
In weighing the fiscal impact of these recommendations, it is important to bear in mind that SOL's activities in effect generate income. Thus, in fiscal year 1992, SOL's budget was just under $64.9 million, but this expenditure resulted in at least $84.2 million in receipts to the federal government. This total came from fines and penalties imposed in litigation, federal income and social security taxes paid on back wages recovered in litigation, and various other sources. To the extent that SOL can operate more efficiently, its ability to continue helping to reduce the federal deficit in this manner can be enhanced.
1. The Office of the Solicitor (SOL) should reexamine and possibly expand the scope of existing cooperative arrangements with client agencies.
Currently, SOL has established cooperative arrangements with a number of its client agencies. SOL should review these arrangements to ensure that cases that can be resolved at the client agency level are resolved at that level and to deal with any problems as soon as practicable.
2. SOL should expand efforts at coordinated budgeting. SOL should work closely with the client agencies when preparing its budget requests so that these requests adequately reflect the client agencies' need for legal services. In an effort to further this coordination, DOL's budget office should build into its budget submission schedule time for planning between SOL and its client agencies. This coordination should result in a more informed budget request from SOL.
3. SOL should ensure that its pilot time distribution project determines the computer hardware, software, personnel, and other requirements of an SOL-wide system.
It is important for SOL to have more detailed information than is currently available on how SOL attorneys and paralegals divide their time among the various program areas (e.g., Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Wage and Hour Division) and in performing differing functions (e.g., opinions, trial litigation). To better track the time spent by attorneys and paralegals in performing the various tasks that SOL employees perform for each of DOL's client agencies, SOL has begun several pilot time distribution projects. Accordingly, SOL should make certain that its pilot time distribution project truly determines the costs, needs, and other requirements of an SOL-wide time distribution system.
4. SOL should provide more employee training opportunities. The SOL should work with the DOL Academy to explore ways to provide SOL-specific training. In addition, SOL may want to work with law schools and legal associations to identify training opportunities. As a potentially less expensive approach, SOL should also make more use of videotapes for training.
5. SOL should upgrade its equipment through replacement of obsolete computer equipment, and make wider use of more advanced communications technology and information-sharing capabilities.
Upon replacing obsolete computer equipment, SOL should examine ways in which its various offices can gain ready access, through use of a computerized database, to prior memos, briefs, and other pleadings, so as to take advantage of previous work done by others.
6. SOL should look toward making wider use of paralegals and interns. The wider use of paralegals and interns for research and drafting would serve to enhance SOL productivity.
These recommendations will enable SOL to become more responsive to client agencies' needs for legal services. SOL will become more efficient in its operations, and each of SOL's client agencies will have more precise information about the cost to it of the legal services being provided.
Implementation of most of the recommendations will require some additional funding for SOL. This funding, however, should be redirected from other components of DOL.
Although greater use of cooperative arrangements with client agencies will not require additional funding for SOL, creating more training opportunities would have associated costs, as will the expansion of the coordinated budgeting approach if, as SOL anticipates, client agencies identify a need for more legal services. However, if DOL can shift some of its training funds to SOL for the purpose of providing SOL-specific training, and if the client agencies are willing to donate full-time equivalent positions to SOL in return for greater legal services, then no increase in the overall DOL budget will be required.
The time distribution system and the greater use of office automation will require additional funds that may not be available from other DOL components. SOL anticipates that these improvements would lead to greater efficiency. A wider use of paralegals and interns would enhance SOL productivity. To the extent that SOL can operate more efficiently, its ability to continue helping to reduce the federal deficit by depositing monies in the Department of the Treasury can be enhanced and could offset a federal investment in these systems.
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