|Legal Services Corporation
For 25 Years, America's
Partner For Equal Justice
Program Letter 2000-1
Board of Directors
Douglas S. Eakeley
John N. Erlenborn
Hulett H. Askew
LaVeeda M. Battle
John T. Broderick, Jr.
F. Wm. McCalpin
St. Louis, MO
Maria Luisa Mercado
Nancy H. Rogers
Thomas F. Smegal, Jr.
San Francisco, CA
Ernestine P. Watlington
The purpose of this program letter is to instruct all grantees to conduct a Self Inspection of a sample of closed cases prior to submitting 1999 Case Service Reporting ("CSR") data to the Legal Services Corporation ("LSC"). The Self Inspection must be completed and the enclosed Certification and Summary Forms signed and returned to LSC no later than March 1, 2000.
The Conference Report accompanying Public Law 106-113, the appropriations law providing federal funding for legal services in 2000, directs LSC to make improvements to the accuracy of the 1999 CSR data. The Conference Report also directs the LSC Office of Inspector General ("OIG") to assess the accuracy of the CSR data and report to Congress as to its accuracy no later than July 30, 2000.
The Congressional directives are in response to 1998 and 1999 audit findings by the General Accounting Office ("GAO") and by LSCs OIG that grantees were reporting cases in which no legal assistance was provided, were reporting cases more than once, were not closing cases in a timely fashion, and were not documenting client eligibility. A subsequent GAO report found that efforts to correct CSR-related problems were insufficient. ("More Needs to Be Done to Correct Case Service Reporting Problems", GAO/GGD-99-183, September 20, 1999.)
LSC is committed to providing the United States Congress and the public with the most accurate information possible. Until such time as new measures are in place to describe adequately the work which legal services programs do, closed case statistics remain the primary measure of the impact of federal funding on the legal problems of people living in poverty. Therefore, the accuracy of the 1999 CSR data is essential.
Standards for Accuracy
Standards for accurate reporting of CSR data are contained in the CSR Handbook (revised November 24, 1998). Sections 3.2, 3.3, and 5.2 of the Handbook contain specific guidance on single recording of cases, timely closing of cases, and documenting client eligibility. Section VI of the Handbook contains guidance on the reporting of different levels of case services, and Section VII contains guidance on the reporting of referrals. In addition, LSC Program Letter 99-3 provides guidance on documenting client eligibility, and a set of Frequently Asked Questions about case service reporting is available at the Recipient Information Network Bulletin Board.
The Self Inspection Process
The purpose of the Self Inspection process is to give programs a means to verify, by reviewing a sample of cases, that their 1999 CSR data meets LSCs standards for accuracy. The enclosed Case Review Form contains a list of questions which identify key requirements which need to be met in order to report a case to LSC. If the answers to the questions in the Case Review Form are generally "Yes", then the sampled cases generally meet the requirements for reporting cases to LSC, and no further inquiry is necessary, unless program staff have reason to believe that the sample selected was not representative of the total number of cases to be reported to LSC or, for other reasons, problems outside the sample would affect the accuracy of the 1999 CSR data.
If there are "No" answers to applicable questions in 10 percent or more of the cases sampled in the Self Inspection process, then the sample of cases tends to indicate that there are overall problems which may affect the accuracy of the 1999 CSR data. In the event that the Self Inspection process does reveal such problems, then consultation with LSC is appropriate to determine whether to initiate corrective action to find and correct problems in cases not included in the Self Inspection sample. Under no circumstances should action be taken to correct problems in sampled cases without action to correct similar problems in cases not included in the sample. In the event of a future audit, there would be a review of cases not included in the Self Inspection sample. Therefore, if problems exist outside the sample, the future audit would disclose them, and if the Self Inspection had not disclosed similar problems, the Self Inspection results would be suspect. To consult with an LSC staff member about corrective action, contact John Meyer at (202) 336-8909, e-mail email@example.com.
To reach a level of absolute confidence that every 1999 closed case is accurately reported to LSC, program staff would need to review each individual case. For most programs, such a review would be impractical. Therefore, the Self Inspection process relies on the selection of a sample of cases from which programs can draw some inferences about the overall number of cases reported to LSC. In order for the inferences to be reliable, however, the sample must be reasonably representative of the total number of cases reported to LSC. If the sample is not representative, then a future audit would likely produce different results, thereby undermining the integrity of the Self Inspection results.
The enclosed Sample Selection Procedure details a process for selecting a sample of cases for review. The Procedure requires programs reporting over 1,000 total closed cases to select a sample of approximately 150 closed cases. Programs reporting fewer than 1,000 total closed cases will need to select a sample of 75 closed cases. Each grantee should document the steps taken in the Selection Procedure, and should clearly indicate any departures from the Selection Procedure. To consult with an LSC staff member about the sampling procedure, contact Bert Thomas at (202) 336-8938, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Review of Sampled Cases
For each case in the sample, the enclosed Case Review Form must be completed, and a "Yes" or "No" answer must be recorded for all applicable questions. Not all questions will be applicable to all cases. For example, questions 1 through 3 are not applicable to certain cases where financial eligibility determinations are not permitted by law. Upon completion, each Case Review Form must be retained for audit purposes.
Several questions in the Case Review Form require a determination whether a "notation" is present in the case file or case management system record. The following standards apply to these questions:
Questions (1) and (3) Notation indicating no income or assets
Question (3) - Receipt of government benefits
Question (4) Citizenship or alien eligibility telephone cases
Question (5) Attestation of citizenship
Use of Case Management System Queries
LSC encourages programs to use their case management systems to augment the Self Inspection process. Case management system queries and reports can easily provide useful information about all 1999 closed cases, not just a sample of cases. For example, a case management system query could readily identify 1999 cases which lack either income or assets information. For assistance with case management system queries, contact your vendor or LSC staff member Glenn Rawdon at (202) 336-8868, e-mail email@example.com.
Whether to Initiate Corrective Action
If there are "No" answers to applicable questions in 10 percent or more of the cases sampled, or if the use of case management system queries reveals problems in a larger number of cases, then program staff will need to make a determination whether to initiate corrective action to remedy the problems identified. Under no circumstances should corrective action be undertaken to address problems in sampled cases without implementation of action to correct similar problems in cases not included in the sample. In the event of a future audit, there would be a review of cases not included in the Self Inspection sample. Therefore, if problems exist outside the sample, the future audit would disclose them.
For some problems, such as untimely closing of cases or duplicate reporting of cases in a particular branch office or unit, an expenditure of effort to identify the total number of affected cases might be justified. Case management system queries and reports could provide an easy means of detecting such cases. In the interest of achieving accurate reporting of 1999 closed cases, further effort to correct problems might also be justified, provided doing so would not have a disproportionate impact on client services. While the decision to undertake corrective action rests with the affected program, LSC strongly encourages consultation prior to the initiation of any corrective action. To consult with an LSC staff member about whether corrective action is advisable, contact John Meyer at (202) 336-8909, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
All programs must submit the enclosed Self Inspection Certification and Summary Forms to LSC by March 1, 2000, regardless of the results of the Self Inspection. The Certification Form requires submission of information about the numbers of cases found to have problems in the Self Inspection, as well as information about whether action was taken before, during, or after the Self Inspection either to remedy problems found or not to report some cases at all. The purpose of collecting this information is to enable LSC to determine the frequency with which programs are unable to report cases because they do not meet LSCs reporting requirements.
The Self Inspection Summary Form collects information about the types and frequency of exceptions noted during the Self Inspection process. The twelve categories listed in the Summary Form correspond with the twelve questions in the Case Review Form. The "Numbers of Cases" column in the Summary Form should accurately reflect the numbers of sampled cases for which exceptions were noted (by "No" answers) in the completion of the Case Review Forms for cases sampled. The collection of this information will enable LSC and program staff to identify those areas where LSCs reporting requirements have been difficult to meet, as well as to indicate where programs should focus their efforts to achieve further improvements in the accuracy of their case reporting.
The Self Inspection Summary Form also collects information about whether programs undertook any corrective action, as a result of the Self Inspection process, which resulted in adjustments to the 1999 CSR data submitted to LSC. If corrective action is undertaken, it should apply not just to cases in the Self Inspection sample, but also in affected cases outside the sample. Programs undertaking corrective action which resulted in adjustments to the 1999 CSR data submitted to LSC should note the categories in which they have taken corrective action in the Self Inspection Summary Form. This information will enable LSC to determine the extent to which programs have been able to correct problems identified during the Self Inspection process.
Self Inspection Certification
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