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Senator Specter Acts to Provide Rent Relief for Judiciary
The chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA),
has introduced legislation to prohibit the General Services Administration from
charging the federal Judiciary rent in excess of the actual costs incurred by
GSA to maintain and operate federal court buildings.
Saying the GSA uses the Judiciary as a profit center, Senator Specter
introduced a bill similar to one introduced by Representative F. James
Sensenbrenner (R-WI ) last month in the House (HR 4710), known as the Judiciary
Rent Reform Act. The bills have minor differences but are similar on the
fundamental point of relieving the courts of the burden of paying GSA
“commercially equivalent” rent.
S. 2292, co-sponsored by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), John Cornyn (R-TX),
Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), would prohibit the GSA from
collecting from the Judiciary rent that involves the recovery of any prior
capital expenditure. It would also bar GSA from collecting for any commercially
equivalent rent charge that GSA does not itself incur, such as real estate taxes
on federally-owned buildings. A means for repayment by the judicial branch of
the cost of future repair and alteration projects performed by GSA would be
agreed upon by the Administrative Office and the GSA.
“The Judiciary paid $926 million to GSA in fiscal year 2005,” said Specter,
“but GSA’s actual cost of providing space to the Judiciary was only $426
million, a difference of $500 million.” In his 2005 Year End Report on the
Federal Judiciary, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. blamed escalating
rents and across-the-board cuts imposed during fiscal years 2004 and 2005 for a
reduction of approximately 1,500 judicial branch employees as of mid-December
when compared to October 2003.
Although the FY 2006 appropriation provides the Judiciary an increase over FY
2005, Roberts said, “the Judiciary must still find a longterm solution to the
problem of everincreasing rent payments that drain resources needed for the
courts to fulfill their vital mission.”
In a Senate floor statement the day after Specter introduced S. 2292, Leahy
referred to a May 2005 letter sent by 11 Judiciary Committee senators to GSA
asking it to exempt the judicial branch from all rental payments except those
required to operate and maintain federal court buildings and related costs.
“GSA’s response,” Leahy said, “has not been adequate. As set forth in that
letter, the excessive rent paid by the Judiciary will exacerbate severe
personnel shortages by forcing more cuts and could also have impacts on
courthouse security. The rent relief provided in this bill will help ensure that
the Judiciary continues to have the tools it needs to carry out its unique and
In support of S. 2292, Cornyn said in a Senate floor statement he believes
the current budgetary problems caused by the Judiciary’s rental payments,
constitute a near crisis in the federal Judiciary. “I believe that the courts
are doing everything they possibly can to contain their costs without adversely
affecting the administration of justice,” he said.