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Federal Courts Look To Contain Costs In Lean Times
Federal courts’ workloads consistently outpace staffing, posing special
challenges for the Judiciary’s core responsibility of administering justice
fairly and impartially. Steps aimed at containing costs have been key to meeting
those challenges, according to a report delivered to Congress in late
“Innovation in Lean Times: How Federal Court Operations Are
Changing to Meet Demands,” a report prepared by the Administrative Office, says
the federal Judiciary “has changed business processes, made use of emerging
technologies, and analyzed its work, always looking for more effective,
efficient ways of doing business” without adversely affecting the delivery of
Much of the steadily increasing workload is beyond the
Judiciary’s control, a situation compounded in fiscal years 2003 and 2004 by the
forced downsizing of probation and clerks’ office staff due to budget shortages.
Court staffing levels declined by 1,800 positions (8 percent) between October
2003 and March 2005.
“The Judiciary is challenged in keeping pace with
its constitutional and expanded statutory responsibilities,” AO Director James
C. Duff said in commenting on the new report.
cost-containment initiatives have helped, they are only a partial solution,”
Duff said. “The courts still require additional staff to handle growing civil
and criminal caseloads.”
The report discusses process improvements and
innovation in both operational and administrative functions. In addition, it
includes initiatives from the Judiciary’s long-term cost-containment strategy
that may result in future changes and cost avoidance.
operational initiatives discussed in the report is the Judiciary’s Case
Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) system, which fundamentally changed
the manner in which cases are filed and managed in bankruptcy and district
clerks’ offices. An appellate version of CM/ECF is due to be implemented in
fiscal year 2007.
Another significant innovation mentioned in the report
is the Electronic Public Access program, which allows interested parties to
access court information and has “alleviated demands on clerks’ offices to
provide case-related information to non-Judiciary users.”
is use of a centralized Bankruptcy Noticing Center, which sends notices to
creditors “in a fraction of the time and cost that would be required if produced
by local courts.”
The report also mentions the Judiciary’s Telephone
Interpreting Program, which reduces travel and other costs for the courts by
providing remote interpretation in situations where qualified on-site court
interpreters are not available. Likewise, the report notes that the use of
videoconferencing enables judges and court staff to conduct certain court
proceedings and meetings remotely, saving travel expenses and time out of the
Various technological developments are among the administrative
initiatives discussed, including the Edwin L. Nelson Local Initiatives Program.
It fosters local information technology (IT) development and information sharing
through IT training; “Ed’s Place,” a website to facilitate court sharing of
local development; and grants to facilitate local IT projects.