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March 2011

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


Funding Uncertain for FY 2011

With no fiscal year 2011 appropriations bills enacted, Congress must pass continuing resolutions
to carry on normal operations or the government shuts down. A shutdown of the federal government was averted on March 4, and again on March 18, when Congress passed short-term spending bills to keep the government running. As the Third Branch went to press in mid-March, Congress had passed an extension until April 8th of the continuing resolution.

Contingency Planning

If Congress is unable to agree on the continued funding of government before April 8th, the Judiciary is prepared to use non-appropriated fees to keep the courts running for up to two weeks.

Once that funding is exhausted, however, the federal court system faces serious disruptions. Following their own contingency plans, federal courts would limit operation to essential activities.

For the federal courts, this would mean limiting activities to those functions necessary and essential to continue the resolution of cases. All other personnel services not related to performance of Article III functions would be suspended.

The jury system would operate as necessary, although payments to jurors would be deferred. Attorneys and essential support staff in federal defender offices and court-appointed counsel would continue to provide defense services as needed, but again, payments would be deferred. Courts would determine the number of probation office staff needed to maintain service to the courts and the safety of the community.

Full-Year Continuing Appropriations

The House passed H.R. 1, the Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act of 2011, providing funding for the remainder of the fiscal year. The Senate has yet to act on the bill. H.R. 1 includes deep cuts in federal spending. The Judiciary already has reduced its FY 2011 request from $7.16 billion to $6.9 billion. This level supports only current services, however, eliminating any funding to address increases in workload.

The funding cuts called for in H.R. 1, coming so late in the fiscal year, could result in the loss of a significant number of on-board court staff. The resulting impact on the courts could compromise access to justice with courts and jeopardize safety in the community.

“We are preparing for a worst-case scenario,” said Director James Duff in a memo to the courts while emphasizing the seriousness of funding cuts to the courts, “but we also are taking all steps necessary to minimize adverse personnel actions.”

In 2004, reductions in court staffing resulted in curtailed hours of operation, reduced services to the public, and decreased oversight of offenders.