In 2003, the Bush Administration appointed a new LSC Board of Directors. For the most part,the members of the LSC board were highly supportive of the legal services program, seeking increased appropriations from Congress and adopting policies that continued the commitment of their predecessors. In early 2004, the Board selected as the new LSC President Helaine Barnett, who previously worked for many years as an attorney and manager for the Legal Aid Society of New York, a former LSC grantee. Ms. Barnett hired a highly competent and committed senior staff, which worked diligently to expand resources available to LSC grantees and to improve the quality of LSC programs. In 2005, LSC began a new quality initiative and issued a well-received report on the national “justice gap,” documenting the gap between the resources available to support legal services and the legal needs of the low income community. The “justice gap” study was updated in 2009. In 2006, LSC issued a set of revised Performance Criteria, setting new standards for its grantees and recommitting LSC to high-quality and effective legal services.
The year 2006 was a landmark for the ABA’s efforts relating to legal services. At its annual meeting in August, the ABA adopted a new set of substantially revised Standards for the Provision of Civil Legal Aid. Although based on its 1986 Standards, the new standards also addressed the major changes in the legal services delivery system and the client community that had been made in the previous two decades, including new standards on participation in statewide and regional systems, cultural competence, the effective use of technology,limited representation, representation on transactional matters, and representation of groups and organizations. In addition, the ABA adopted two new major policy statements. One was a call for the expansion of the right to counsel in civil cases involving basic human needs, and the other was a set of 10 principals for an effective state-based legal services delivery system.
Finally, LSC came under increased scrutiny from US General Accountability Office (GAO)which began a series of audits in 2006 of LSC and its grantees. These audits resulted in two extensive and critical GAO reports issued in 2007 that included a number of recommendations intended to modernize and strengthen LSC’s governance and accountability practices and to improve its internal controls, grants management, and oversight operations.
The GAO reports and the implementation of their recommendations engulfed the LSC Board and management in a time-consuming set of activities and provided substantial fodder to LSC’s critics. LSC implemented most of the GAO recommendations, and GAO indicated that LSC is responding effectively to the concerns that it had raised. In addition,the LSC Board appointed by President Obama created a Special Task Force on Fiscal Oversight to study how fiscal oversight of grantees is currently performed by the Corporation. The Board accepted and adopted the findings and recommendations of the Task Force in January 2012. The recommendations included creating a risk-based,integrated approach to financial oversight and consolidating management’s three,separate oversight offices into one office called the Office of Grantee Assessment (OGA). LSC’s Vice President for Grants Management oversaw the implementation of the Task Force recommendations.