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Committee Takes on Issues From Judgeships to the Workforce
Judge Dennis G. Jacobs was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
in 1992. He is chair of the Judicial Conference Committee on Judicial Resources.
Q: What are the major challenges faced by
the Judiciary in maintaining its workforce?
A: In a few words: competition in
a tight labor market, loyalty to the institution, and flexibility of skills and resources to respond
Over the years, we have done a good job of attracting and
a talented workforce committed to supporting the administration
of justice. Competition for excellent people is always a factor, and
today that competition is keen, especially as we seek out the people who
help us make the best use of the technological infrastructure that the
is putting in place. The Committee on Judicial Resources, in conjunction
with other committees of the Judicial Conference, is committed to
recommending compensation, benefits, and training programs that will
and make the highest use of the people we need. The Judiciary continues
to update its networks, systems, and applications to meet changing
business requirements and ensure the security and integrity of
sensitive information. Success in each of these endeavors depends on
maintaining a trained, stable, and flexible workforce.
The Judiciary's commitment to technology is changing the
skills needed by its workforce. In the last few years, we have had to
trained systems personnel in a brutally tight labor market, and we have
undertaken extensive training and support for judges and support staff
so that they can use these systems effectively. One challenge is to
hire people who have or can acquire the technological skills we
now demand; at the same time, we need a stable workforce of people
with integrity, strong institutional loyalty, and long-term commitment.
Hiring and retaining such people is a tall order; we cannot expect to
accomplish this without competing with the private sector in
compensation and benefits, and we are going to have to accept and defend
certain budget consequences of that commitment.
Immediately pressing is the crisis in the southwest border
courts, where the mushrooming growth of criminal filings is exerting
intense pressure on judges and clerks' offices. Automation support,
training, personnel management and procurement are particularly
difficult for these fast-growing courts, some in remote locations. The
border courts are taking measures to cope with dramatic
caseload increases. Visiting judges from other districts are helping. One
successful experiment, using video conferencing and other technological
aids, has been the conduct of bench trials by a judge sitting in
chambers outside a district. Maybe there will be some long-term benefits from
the techniques adopted to deal with this crisis, but it appears that until
more help arrives the chief technique and resource for judges and
clerks' offices will continue to be overwork. The Committee on
Judicial Resources, through its Subcommittee on Judicial Statistics, has
developed recommendations for additional judgeships in these critical
places. The Judicial Conference has adopted those recommendations and sent them to Congress for
Q: How does the Committee go about developing
recommendations for additional judgeships?
A: The Committee's Subcommittee
on Judicial Statistics has primary responsibility
for conducting surveys of judgeship needs every other year for
the Committee. The subcommittee asks that each court review its
workload to determine if additional judgeships are needed, and if so,
to complete a judgeship survey application to justify its request.
The application includes questions about the volume and
characteristics of the court's caseload, the court's use of senior and
visiting judges, use by district courts of magistrate judges and
alternative dispute resolution, and any other factors that may have had
an impact on a court's judgeship needs.
In developing a recommendation for additional judgeships, the subcommittee thoroughly studies
each applications as well as the recommendation from the judicial council of the circuit, reviews
current caseload information from the Administrative Office, and weighs the caseload under standards
established by the Judicial Conference. After consideration of information from all available sources
, the subcommittee develops final recommendations for consideration by the full Committee on Judicial
Resources. The Committee reviews the report from the subcommittee and develops final recommendations
for consideration by the Judicial Conference. At the end of this process, the Conference recently
approved recommendations to create 63 additional judgeships, 10 for courts of appeals, and 53 for
district courts. Those recommendations were transmitted to Congress in draft legislation July 31, 2000.
Q: The Committee sent the most recent judgeship
recommendations to the Judicial Conference on an expedited basis. Why?
A: The Judicial Conference
recommendations that were pending before Congress earlier
this year were based on the 1999 Biennial Survey of Judgeship
Needs, which incorporated workload information through the year
ended June 30, 1998. There have been major changes in the workload
of several courts since that time. Under the normal schedule, we would
have completed the 2001 Biennial Survey of Judgeship Needs at
our December 2000 Committee meeting, and the judgeship
recommendations would have been considered by the Judicial Conference in March
2001. However, there are some encouraging signs that the Senate may
consider omnibus judgeship legislation—for the first time in nearly
10 years—before the end of the
106th Congress. The Committee felt that Congress in its deliberations
should be apprised of the Judiciary's requirements based on current workload rather
than on the information that is nearly two years old. The Committee, therefore,
expedited the 2001 Judgeship Survey and submitted final judgeship
recommendations to the Judicial Conference at the end of July.
Q: Has the Committee ever
recommended a reduction in the number of existing judgeships or judges?
A: The Committee has not
recommended a reduction in the number of authorized
judgeships in any court. We have, however, recommended in several courts
that existing or future judgeship vacancies not be filled. In March 1996,
the Judicial Conference approved a recommendation from the
Committee to include in the survey process a review of courts in which it may
be appropriate to recommend elimination of judgeships or continuation
of vacancies. In approving the process for conducting these reviews,
the Conference adopted the policy that elimination of existing
judgeships not be recommended except in circumstances where the situation
in a court is unlikely in the foreseeable future to support the need for
the current number of judgeships. Although the Committee has
found situations where it has recommended not filling vacancies, it
has not found circumstances that would support elimination of
Q: There has been a lot of talk
in the legislative and executive branches about managing human capital and the need for
greater flexibility in the area of compensation and benefits. Has the Judiciary given
any attention to these issues?
A: Like many other large
employers, the Judiciary will need to replace a large segment of
its workforce over the next few years as many of its baby boomer
employees retire. Now is the time to focus on the problem that the current
core federal employees' benefits package is no longer fully competitive
with what is available in a thriving private sector.
Employees increasingly need and demand greater flexibility in
their benefits, and employers who want to stay competitive are giving
employees a longer menu of benefits. The Judiciary has launched a
longterm effort to that end. This year, several new programs were introduced,
an employeepayall longterm care insurance program and a
flexible benefit program that allows employees to pay
employer-sponsored health care plan premiums and certain medical and dependent
care expenses with pretax dollars. These programs do not entail an employer contribution. Even
so, enrollment is unusually brisk when compared to industry
averages, which indicates to me keen interest among Judiciary employees and
new hires in wider benefits options. The Judiciary will continue to
aggressively pursue efforts to provide meaningful competitive benefits.
Q: During the past two years,
the Committee on Judicial Resources has led an enormous work measurement effort to develop new
staffing formulas to cover all court unit employees in the Judiciary. Can you tell us about the processes
and results of this tremendous effort?
A: The Committee has been
overseeing this mammoth project over a long period. The end product, not counting the volumes
of raw data and reams of charts and memos, is 11 new staffing
formulas. Applying those formulas to measured workloads would yield a total
Judiciary workforce requirement of approximately 22,000 employees.
The initiative was a joint project between the courts and the
Administrative Office. It brought together over 30 Administrative Office
staff, 149 court-unit subject-matter experts, and almost 100 court unit
executives. The Committee carefully reviewed and approved the methodology
and resulting formulas. Court personnel were nominated to participate in
work groups for studies conducted in each of the court units: appellate
and circuit offices, district, bankruptcy, and
probation and pretrial services.
These groups developed and revised work center descriptions and participated in data collection.
Data collection was performed at 24 district clerks' offices, 26
bankruptcy clerks' offices, and 25 probation and pretrial services
offices including divisional offices. All 12 circuits
were measured including all appellate court and circuit offices.
Data collection was completed in November 1999. The databases were
then subjected to analytical and statistical testing. Through regression
analysis, staffing factors were selected to develop the formulas.
The Committee on Judicial Resources and court advisory
groups were briefed throughout the process. After getting the support of all
court advisory groups, and after final revisions, the reports were
presented to the Committee on Judicial Resources and other
appropriate Judicial Conference committees at their summer 2000 meetings.
All staffing formulas were endorsed by the committees, and approved
by the Judicial Conference at its September 2000 session.
Now that the staffing formulas are approved by the Judicial
Conference, we will need to keep them current so that they are
statistically sound, maintain their credibility with court unit heads and
judges, and are defensible in Congress. To do that the Committee on
Judicial Resources has directed the Administrative Office to update
these formulas on a continual annual cycle in order that the Judiciary
can be assured of accurate, up-to-date staffing formulas.