IT head moves Courts into next century

Although she did not know it at the time, Pamela White, assistant director of the Office of Automation and Technology at the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, started carving out her information technology career when she performed a cost/benefit analysis on a Justice Department automation program many years ago.

The success of that study landed her a position managing the Civil Division's integrated automation network system at DOJ, and she has stayed in the IT field ever since.

"I have continued in the automation area...because I find it fascinating," White said, adding that her management skills dovetail well with the IT field "as long as I am very carefully backed up by strong technical people, and I have been very lucky to find a lot of those."

White came to the courts six years ago to jump-start a new office tasked with building office automation systems for federal courts nationwide as well as fielding a new Data Communications Network (DCN) that would link them all together.

Since then, White has seeded the courts system with more than 30,000 PCs in 110 locations serving 17,000 employees and has helped field a first-generation computerized case management system.

"DCN was the first time we acknowledged that [the] judiciary needed a reliable and consistent way to transfer information, and we needed some faster ways of getting to computer-assisted legal research and things that are used everyday by folks in the courts," she said.

She has also focused on standards, helping draft an information systems document that states which architecture, platforms, protocols and judiciary-wide databases are being used. "That doesn't mean that someone might not have a local program that is different...but at least they know they need to tie into [the] architecture as we defined it," White said.

She said the standard architecture will pay off in the future as the courts bring on a number of new systems, including a next-generation case management system financial, payroll and personnel systems as well as a jury modernization system that will automate the jury process, from assembling a list of potential jurors to paying them after they have served.

Working Toward a Goal

All this, particularly the case management system, will support the courts' goal to electronically transfer the estimated 200 million pages of electronic or paper documents created every year. Dealing with this mass of paper electronically offers "tremendous possibilities," White said, "in terms of not only changing how you do things, but saving time."

Before developing the new case management system, White said the courts must first determine how to move documents through the system, who will use them and how they will be used.

The decentralized and autonomous nature of the judiciary complicates this task, White said. The administrative office is not a headquarters in the usual sense because the courts have a great deal of say in terms of how they run their day-to-day business, she added.

White's office provides overall budget, guidance and policy support to the 94 district courts, 12 appellate courts, more than 80 bankruptcy courts and many probation and pretrial offices. "Mostly we're there to serve the courts and make sure they have what they need in order to do their own work," she said.

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