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February 2006

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.


Rent Relief Bill for Judiciary Introduced in House

In direct response to a plea from the Chief Justice of the United States, legislation has been introduced in the House that would give much-needed rent relief to the federal Judiciary.

The Judiciary Rent Reform Act, H.R. 4710, was introduced by Representative F. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), chair of the House Judiciary Committee. Representatives John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) and Lamar Smith (R-TX) are co-sponsors of the bill.

“The purpose of this legislation is to ensure the rent paid by the federal Judiciary,” Sensenbrenner said, “is rationally and equitably related to the actual costs of providing their facilities.” The bill would replace the “commercially-equivalent” rent calculation that the General Services Administration has used with a requirement that the courts pay only for the actual operating expenses incurred in providing space.

“This simple change will result in a dramatic savings in the Judiciary’s rent expense,” said Sensenbrenner.

Since 1986, the Judiciary’s annual rent payments to the General Services Administration have increased from $133 million to almost $920 million. “As a percentage of the Judiciary’s operating budget, these payments have climbed from 15.7 percent to 20 percent,” Sensenbrenner said.

In his 2005 Year End Report on the Judiciary, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., said that the Judiciary is required to pay a large and ever-increasing portion of its budget as rent to another part of the government—GSA—spending almost 16 percent of its total budget. Only 3 percent of the Department of Justice budget goes toward GSA rent, and the Executive Branch as a whole spends less than two-tenths of one percent of its budget on GSA rent.

“During fiscal year 2005, the Judiciary paid $926 million to GSA in rent, even though GSA’s actual cost for providing space to the Judiciary was $426 million,” said the Chief Justice. “The disparity between the Judiciary’s rent and that of other government agencies, and between the cost to GSA of providing space and the amount charged to the Judiciary, is unfair. The federal Judiciary cannot continue to serve as a profit center for GSA.”

Sensenbrenner noted that soaring GSA rent payments have compelled the federal courts to make difficult choices, including a decision over 18 months to reduce employee ranks by 1,850 positions.

Sensenbrenner also said there was little doubt that without Congressional action, the budgetary pressures from rising rental costs on the Judiciary would result in the loss of further court personnel.

“As chairman of the Judiciary Committee,” said Sensenbrenner, “I believe Congress has a duty to act to ensure the fair, efficient, and equitable adjudication of all legitimate issues brought before the courts. The use of the courts as a ‘profit center’ can no longer be tolerated.”