The federal Judiciary has engaged in an aggressive cost-containment effort for more than a decade. Sequestration has only emphasized the need for the Judiciary’s continued efforts.
Contain Costs While Providing Effective Representation
The Judiciary has made progress in containing costs while providing effective representation to financially eligible persons under the Criminal Justice Act. In June 2013, the Conference Committee on Defender Services met with the U.S. Deputy Attorney General to discuss coordinated approaches to further reducing unnecessary costs. Judiciary and Department of Justice (DOJ) cooperation has already achieved savings as a result of joint electronic discovery protocols. A newly implemented federal defender organization (FDO) case-weighting system has improved management of federal defender resources and helped assess individual FDO workload and resource needs. A new analytical tool is also being used to determine non-attorney FDO staffing requirements.
Case budgeting is used to limit the costs of CJA panel attorney representations in capital and appropriate non-capital cases. Case-budgeting attorneys work closely with the panel attorneys to devise case budgets, provide assistance to presiding judges, and develop case-budgeting and other cost-containment best practices. In addition to the national case-budgeting guidelines, the Conference has endorsed an increase in circuit case-budgeting attorney positions.
Districts have been asked to form local stakeholder committees to find ways to reduce the costs associated with the detention of pretrial defendants in remote facilities. Remote detentions greatly increase the costs associated with visits to detained clients by appointed defense counsel and others. Specific efforts focused on court locations estimated to have the highest average travel costs per visit.
Refine the Work Measurement Process
The Judiciary continued to improve its work measurement process. In June 2013, the Judicial Conference Committee on Judicial Resources recommended a replacement staffing formula for district clerks’ offices developed from automated diary entries made by more than 6,400 employees in 92 of 94 districts. The recommended formula offers an aggregate staffing requirement approximately 12 percent lower than the previous formula and provides greater detail by identifying the first discrete formula factors for misdemeanors, petty offenses, multidistrict litigation filings, and patent cases.
The Committee expects to receive replacement staffing formula options for bankruptcy administrator offices and circuit and appellate court units in June 2014, and defender organizations and probation and pretrial services offices in June 2015.
Reduce Space to Limit Rent Costs
One of the Judiciary’s biggest cost-containment successes to date has been in limiting the growth of space and the related rent costs. The Judiciary occupies more than 39 million rentable square feet and annually pays GSA approximately $1 billion in rent, which accounts for 21 percent of the Judiciary’s Salaries and Expenses budget. In September 2013, the Judicial Conference approved three significant national space reduction policies aimed at not only curtailing growth but reducing space by a target of 3 percent by the end of FY 2018.
In September 2012, the Judicial Conference agreed to close six non-resident federal court facilities and approved an initiative rewarding courts for reducing their space. In the initiative’s first year, 31 federal court units will be downsized or closed, claiming more than $1.7 million in incentives to release underused space back to the General Services Administration (GSA). Probation/pretrial offices accounted for four of the five largest cost-saving projects.
Evaluate Library System to Reduce Costs
A primary cost-containment priority of the Judicial Conference Court Administration and Case Management (CACM) Committee, with the assistance of judges and circuit librarians, has been to reduce the costs of libraries and law books while ensuring that judges maintain access to key legal research tools. Subscription cancellations saved more than $6.7 million in FY 2013.
In 2012, the Budget Committee asked the CACM Committee, along with the Judicial Resources and Space and Facilities Committees, to evaluate the entire library program with the goal of further reducing costs. In support of the CACM Committee, the AO, in coordination with the circuit librarians and circuit executives, identified the costs of library space, chambers and library collections, and library staff. Circuit judicial councils have been directed to assess the continuing need for headquarters and satellite libraries and report back to the three committees in March 2014.
Save Storage Costs with Records Reappraisal
When fully implemented, a new standard for archiving and disposing of federal court case files will allow the Judiciary to reduce its storage volume by just under one million boxes—enough to fill 16 football fields—at an annual saving of approximately $3 million. A reappraisal of civil and bankruptcy records schedules already has resulted in a savings since 2010 of $1.1 million in storage costs of temporary files. Pre-1996 permanent files now are catalogued and organized, which improves access for researchers and historians.
Without the reappraisal program, storage costs would have ballooned to $7.2 million by 2012. Instead, yearly off-site storage costs leveled out at $6.1 million in 2011 and are now falling. The revised record schedules for non-electronic federal civil, bankruptcy, appellate, and now criminal files, is a joint effort of the Judicial Conference Committee on Court Administration and Case Management, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), and historians.
Revise Staffing Standards for Recalled Magistrate and Bankruptcy Judges
In September 2012, the Judicial Conference approved the recommendations of the Bankruptcy Committee and the Magistrate Judges Committee to amend the Judicial Conference regulations governing the recall of retired magistrate judges and bankruptcy judges. The amendments, which took effect October 1, 2012, establish more specific workload standards for authorizing staff for recalled magistrate judges and bankruptcy judges. They also require explicit Committee approval of all staff for a recalled magistrate judge or bankruptcy judge and funding approval for any recall exceeding $10,000 in judicial salary, Office of Personnel Management annuity reimbursement, and travel and subsistence.
Since the new regulations took effect, there has been a significant reduction in the number of authorized staff positions and funding for recalled judges. Further costs have been saved as some magistrate judge and bankruptcy judge positions have been held vacant during the term of a retired judge’s recall service.
Reduce Expenses with Bankruptcy Noticing Center Improvements
The AO continued to partner with court working groups to reduce court-noticing expenses. Further expansion of the Electronic Bankruptcy Noticing (EBN) program, which now handles more than a third of all Bankruptcy Noticing Center (BNC) notices, saved more than $9 million dollars in FY 2013. Processing returned mail centrally through the BNC rather than by court personnel has saved more than $1.2 million in postage costs this past year. The average cost per notice transmitted by the BNC has decreased nationally by more than 13 percent in the past two years, due to EBN program growth as well as to improvements to bankruptcy courts’ local noticing practices. Since 1994, the BNC contract has saved the Judiciary more than $100 million in postage, personnel, and equipment costs.
IT Programs Cut Travel Costs, Increase Efficiencies at National Level
(click to enlarge)
Court staff from around the country met in March to discuss the changing landscape of courtroom technology.
National Videoconferencing Service Deployed
In February 2013, the AO began implementing a new national service that will significantly reduce the Judiciary’s videoconferencing costs by eliminating the need for redundant local connections and equipment. The national service also will provide a uniform approach to ensure Judiciary-wide compatibility and security. The service also is expected to reduce travel costs significantly. As of July 2013, 540 devices that judges and court staff can use to conduct videoconferences were installed in 113 court units. Courts can purchase additional devices and connect them to the national service as needed. Additionally, more than 1,700 mobile device users are supported by the national videoconferencing service.
National Internet Protocol (IP) Telephone Service Available
The AO is implementing a national internet protocol (IP) telephone service that relieves courts of the cost of purchasing and maintaining local telephone systems. In October 2012, approximately 9,700 telephone devices had been deployed. As of July 2013, more than 28,000 of an estimated 40,000 devices had been deployed, handling a monthly call volume of approximately 990,000 inbound and 1.2 million outbound calls. A temporary pause in service deployment began in April 2013 due to financial uncertainties resulting from the budget sequestration. Deployment resumed with FY 2014 funding.
AO Reorganization Reduces Operating Costs and Duplication
One of the recommendations of a 2011 AO cost-containment task force was to “assess the AO’s structure across all directorates” and determine “how to organize to best support for the Third Branch.” Following a detailed assessment, a major AO reorganization was announced in June 2013.
The restructuring plan reduces operating costs and duplication of effort, enhances service to the courts and the Judicial Conference, and simplifies the AO’s administrative structure. Several principles guide the plan and are governing its implementation: (1) organize by function; (2) simplify organizational structures; (3) empower managers and streamline governance; (4) remove impediments to coordination; (5) create flexibility to respond to changing circumstances; (6) reduce managerial layers, organizational “top heaviness,” and associated costs; and (7) maintain critical working relationships with Conference committees, advisory councils, and peer advisory groups.
The AO has been organized into Executive Offices and three departments: Program Services, Administrative Services, and Technology Services. The simplified and streamlined organization will allow the AO to be more flexible and better positioned to meet changing needs. Further, the restructuring is the only way the AO can maintain a highly skilled and dedicated workforce, given the fiscal realities the agency currently faces and expects to encounter in coming years.