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New 'Access DOJ' Aims To Nix Barriers, Boost Accessibility

By Rose Krebs · 2024-06-10 15:00:29 -0400 ·

The U.S. Department of Justice has announced the launch of an initiative to improve access to its programs and services, including an upcoming project to make it easier to report tips about crime or other violations of law.

Access DOJ, led by the department's Office for Access to Justice, aims to improve access for "all communities and stakeholders," the department said Friday.

"The Access DOJ Initiative will provide a path for us to make the Justice Department's services more accessible, effective, and efficient at meeting the needs of the diverse communities we serve," Acting Associate Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer said in a statement. "It will ensure that the department, for the first time, has a localized hub of expertise focused on assisting components broadly with human-centered design practices."

Access DOJ grew organically from partnerships across the department aimed at simplifying access to forms and programs, a department representative told Law360 on Monday.

Work on the initiative began as early as the 2022 White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable Report, which was "focused on people-centered simplification of federal government forms, processes and language," the representative said.

"Today, states and court leaders across the country are increasingly taking steps to use human-centered design to make our legal systems work better for people," Rachel Rossi, director of the Office for Access to Justice, said in a statement emailed to Law360 Monday. "Access DOJ will allow the Justice Department — the nation's largest law office — to model how to expand access to justice by making public-facing materials easy to find, easy to understand and easy to use."

The department said that through the initiative, it will annually offer projects to improve and streamline access to its programs, services and resources. Also, training and hands-on coaching will be offered, and representatives from across the DOJ will share feedback on successes and challenges to identify solutions moving forward, the announcement said.

The Office for Access to Justice set the groundwork for the launch of Access DOJ with such measures as working with the DOJ's Office of the Pardon Attorney to make revisions to the form used by people who are requesting a presidential pardon after finishing a sentence, the announcement said. The form is part of the process for individuals to restore their civil rights, regain their standing in the community, or improve their employment opportunities, the DOJ said.

Revisions were based on feedback from the public and other factors "with the goal of reducing burdens on everyone involved — applicants and Justice Department staff — to promote both trust in government and fiscal responsibility," the department said

Also, the department said the Access to Justice team worked with the Office of the U.S. Trustee to get feedback on a newly piloted program to offer virtual bankruptcy proceedings, the announcement said. That partnership resulted from "engagement with legal aid providers in the pilot region who work with low-income and rural communities," the DOJ said.

Plans are to develop "a series of short videos of mock meetings to give people a preview of the meetings, demystify them, explain them in plain language, and reduce the psychological costs of going through the process unprepared," the announcement said.

On its web page, the Office for Access to Justice says that "millions of people interact with DOJ every day through our mission to uphold the rule of law, keep our country safe, and protect civil rights."

"Simplifying access to our programs, services and resources will enhance our ability to deliver on this mission," the office's web page says.

The aim is to make DOJ services more accessible, effective and efficient, and in doing so, "reduce burdens on the public and DOJ staff, streamline resources, and save taxpayer dollars," the Office for Access to Justice says.

Moving forward, "Access DOJ's first annual high-impact project will review crime-reporting portals across the department, with an eye to improving usability," a DOJ representative told Law360 on Monday.

"In our public-facing materials, we must prioritize what makes sense for the people we serve, above technical nuances," Rossi said in a statement. "This will require that lawyers and subject matter experts work with designers to get feedback from the public. We cannot be the judge of whether our materials are accessible and effective — only the people using our services can do that."

--Editing by Amy French.

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