The U.S. Bankruptcy Trustee Program

The United States Trustee Program is a component of the Department of Justice that seeks to promote the efficiency and protect the integrity of the Federal bankruptcy system. To further the public interest in the just, speedy and economical resolution of cases filed under the Bankruptcy Code, the Program monitors the conduct of bankruptcy parties and private estate trustees, oversees related administrative functions, and acts to ensure compliance with applicable laws and procedures. It also identifies and helps investigate bankruptcy fraud and abuse in coordination with United States Attorneys, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and other law enforcement agencies.

Background of the U.S. Trustee Program

The Program was established by the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978 (11 U.S.C. § 101, et seq.) as a pilot effort encompassing 18 districts. It was expanded to 21 Regions nationwide, covering all Federal judicial districts except Alabama and North Carolina, by enactment of the Bankruptcy Judges, U.S. Trustees, & Family Farmer Bankruptcy Act of 1986 (Pub. L. 99-554, 100 Stat. 3088, reprinted in part at 28 U.S.C. § 581). The Program is funded by the United States Trustee System Fund, which consists primarily of fees paid by parties and businesses invoking Federal bankruptcy protection.

The primary role of the U.S. Trustee Program is to serve as the "watchdog over the bankruptcy process." As stated in the USTP Mission Statement:

“The United States Trustee Program acts in the public interest to promote the efficiency and to protect and preserve the integrity of the bankruptcy system. It works to secure the just, speedy, and economical resolution of bankruptcy cases; monitors the conduct of parties and takes action to ensure compliance with applicable laws and procedures; identifies and investigates bankruptcy fraud and abuse; and oversees administrative functions in bankruptcy cases.”

The Attorney General is charged with the appointment of United States Trustees and Assistant United States Trustees. The Executive Office for U.S. Trustees (EOUST) in Washington, D.C., provides general policy and legal guidance, oversees the Program's substantive operations, and handles administrative functions. The Director of the Executive Office, whose authority derives from the Attorney General, oversees a staff comprised of the Offices of the Director, General Counsel, Administration, Review & Oversight, and Research & Planning. The Executive Office also provides administrative and management support to individual U.S. Trustee Offices in their implementation of Federal bankruptcy laws.

Principal U.S. Trustee Duties Under the Bankruptcy Code

United States Trustees supervise the administration of the following cases filed under the Federal Bankruptcy Code:

  • Liquidation proceedings under Chapter 7 — In Chapter 7 "liquidation" proceeding, those assets that are not exempt from creditors are collected and liquidated (reduced to money). The proceeds are distributed to creditors by a private trustee appointed to administer the debtor's estate under Chapter 7. An eligible debtor may receive a "discharge" from his or her debts under Chapter 7, except for certain debts that are prohibited from discharge by the Bankruptcy Code.
  • Reorganization proceedings (usually business-related) under Chapter 11 — Chapter 11 offers a procedure by which an individual or a business may attempt to "reorganize" its debts while continuing to operate. The vast majority of Chapter 11 cases are filed by businesses. The debtor, often with the participation of creditors, creates a reorganization plan under which to repay all or part of its debts. The "debtor in possession" may generally continue business operations pending reorganization, unless a trustee is appointed under Chapter 11.

Section §1930(a)(6) of the U.S. Code (28 U.S.C. §1930(a)(6)) prescribes "quarterly fees" that are to be paid by Chapter 11 debtors to the U.S. Trustee Program. In essence, quarterly fees accrue throughout the pendency of a Chapter 11 reorganization case (i.e., until the case is closed, dismissed, or converted to another chapter) and are payable on a quarterly basis, 30 days following the end of each calendar quarter. "The amount of the quarterly fee [is] calculated according to a graduated scale based on the total sum of disbursements" as specified in §1930(a)(6), and "disbursements" include all pre- and post-confirmation payments made by or on behalf of the debtor, including routine operating expenses.

  • "Wage-earner" reorganization proceedings under Chapter 13 — Chapter 13, often called wage-earner bankruptcy, is used primarily by individual consumers to reorganize their financial affairs under a repayment plan that must be completed within three or five years. To be eligible for Chapter 13 relief, a consumer must have regular income and may not have more than a certain amount of debt, as set forth in the Bankruptcy Code. A "standing trustee" appointed by the United States Trustee under 28 U.S.C. §586(b) typically serves as the trustee of the debtor's estate pending fulfillment of the debtor's repayment obligations under a plan confirmed by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court where the case was filed.

Specific Responsibilities of the United States Trustees

  • Appointing and supervising private trustees who administer Chapter 7 and 13 bankruptcy estates (and serving as trustees in such cases where private trustees are unable or unwilling to serve);
  • Taking legal action to enforce the requirements of the Bankruptcy Code and to prevent fraud and abuse;
  • Referring matters for investigation and criminal prosecution when appropriate;
  • Ensuring that bankruptcy estates are administered promptly and efficiently, and that professional fees are reasonable;
  • Appointing and convening creditors' committees in Chapter 11 business reorganization cases;
  • Reviewing disclosure statements and applications for the retention of professionals; and
  • Advocating matters relating to the Bankruptcy Code and rules of procedure in court.

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