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December 2008

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

 

JRent: Powerful Tool Helps Courts Monitor Space Costs


The nation’s federal courts have a powerful new tool for monitoring space costs. JRent, a software module, provides court unit executives and their designees with a simple, searchable database of past and current rent bill information.

 

Rents paid to the General Services Administration (GSA) represent about 20 percent of the Judiciary’s overall annual budget. The Circuit Rent Budget program is aimed at controlling rent bill growth, and JRent can help.

“Awareness of space cost is a first step,” said Facilities Information Manager David Rickerson of the Office of Facilities and Security’s Space and Facilities Division in the Administrative Office (AO). “It became obvious that the AO and the courts needed information. So we built a database in the late ‘90s that evolved into what is now called JFACTS. It includes rent charges for each court unit. That data is now used by JRent.”

As rent cost-containment efforts progressed over the past several years, access to rent cost information for the courts was sought. JRent, largely Rickerson’s invention, was unveiled last October 1. It is a joint effort between the AO and the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York.

John Domurad, chief deputy clerk in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, calls JRent an important tool “in the arsenal of court executives to evaluate their costs.”

“Space can no longer be viewed as a free commodity, but rather we must view it as we do all other items purchased from a private vendor,” Domurad said. “As such, space is subject to the same spending decisions and strict accounting principles we employ with other court purchases.”

He added, “JRent advances this concept because it provides court personnel with a user-friendly medium to view their current and past rent bills from the GSA. Armed with this information, court executives can make informed decisions regarding their space utilization.”

JRent is gaining attention. As of late November, 252 unique court users representing 186 different court units have viewed their rent costs via JRent.

“Although it is too early to draw any trend patterns, I would expect that we’ll see a pattern develop where use is most heavy after each month’s rent data is posted, which typically occurs between the 18th and 21st of the month,” said Rickerson, project manager for JRent.

Domurad said it is important for courts to share information and methodology. “The learning curve on courthouse rents is steep if attempted by oneself,” he said. “JRent is really one tool in the Judiciary’s cost-containment initiative. It’s invaluable for verification. You know, if I order 10 pencils from the office supply store, I expect to receive 10 pencils. But I will count them anyway.”