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Federal judiciary feeling budget pain

By: Denise M. Champagne//April 7, 2011

Federal judiciary feeling budget pain

By: Denise M. Champagne//April 7, 2011

The federal judiciary this week, citing the nation’s fiscal condition, asked a congressional subcommittee for its smallest funding increase on record.

For fiscal 2012, the judiciary seeks $7.3 billion in appropriations, $299 million above this year’s assumed appropriations level, according to Judge Julia Gibbons, chairwoman of the Judicial Conference Budget Committee, who Wednesday addressed the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government.

The judiciary’s largest account, $5.2 billion, is for salaries and expenses, and funding the bulk of federal court operations, including the regional courts of appeals, district courts, bankruptcy courts and probation and pretrial services offices.

The judiciary also requires $1.1 billion in defender services to provide criminal defense services to indigent defendants under the Criminal Justice Act. That will handle 206,200 defense representations.

Another $513 million is needed to provide for additional court security officers, cover higher Federal Protective Service costs and fund improvements to security at federal courthouses.

“All of us in the third branch are concerned about historic budget deficits and a growing national debt and we understand the need to rein in federal spending,” Judge Gibbons said.

She also warned the impact could be significant on the federal court system and its administration of justice while noting requested increases for the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security will further increase the federal courts’ workload, which is already at or near record levels in most filing categories.

“We do not have the discretion to decline or defer cases based on resource constraints,” she said. “We are required to adjudicate the cases that are brought to us regardless of staffing and resource levels in the federal courts.”

A large funding shortfall would affect staffing levels with significant losses in clerks of court and probation and pretrial services offices nationwide.

In addition, Judge Gibbons talked about savings. She told committee members rent payments to the General Services Administration are nearly $400 million below the 2012 rent projection made before cost-containment initiatives that include a thorough review of organizational, policy and process alternatives to improved courthouse facilities planning.

She noted successes in limiting future compensation costs for court staff, reducing the need for new staff and containing information technology costs without sacrificing the long-term benefits of investing in technology.

“I urge you to provide the funding needed to enable us to maintain the high standards of the United States Judiciary,” Judge Gibbons said.

James C. Duff, director of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, testified on the need to obtain the funding necessary for the judiciary, as well as the administrative office, to meet its responsibilities.

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