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March 2006

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


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 vital function.”

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.