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Courts Warned to Prepare for Budget Shortfall
The fiscal year 2012 funding level for the Judiciary approved by the House Appropriations Committee would result in significant staffing losses in the federal courts.
In the House 2012 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill, the Judiciary as a whole would receive $6.76 billion, a net $142 million below the FY 2011 enacted appropriations level. The Judiciary’s Salaries and Expenses account would receive $213 million below FY 2011 levels.
As a result, the federal courts are being urged to implement immediately a hiring freeze on vacancies and limit spending to essential purchases. “These actions will better position the courts for a large budget shortfall expected in FY 2012,” said Administrative Office Director Jim Duff.
At the House bill funding levels, courts would have to cut spending on salaries by the equivalent of about 5,000 court support staff, which might be accomplished through a combination of attrition, layoffs, furloughs, buyouts, and early outs. The Senate has not yet considered the Judiciary’s appropriations bill for FY 2012.
“It is critical we prepare”
The chairs of the Judicial Conference Executive Committee, Judge David B. Sentelle, and the Budget Committee, Judge Julia S. Gibbons, have written to all federal judges and court executives asking for their assistance in preparing for the coming reductions to the Judiciary’s funding and urging them to take whatever steps they can now to contain costs within chambers and court offices.
“This situation is unlike anything was have faced in recent memory, including the cost-containment efforts we initiated in fiscal year 2004,” they wrote, “and could fundamentally change how we perform our constitutional and statutory responsibilities.”
The Executive Committee and the Budget Committee are taking the lead in working with the other Conference committees on additional cost-containment efforts. Judiciary employees, led by judges and unit executives, are being asked to identify ways to reduce operational and administrative costs.
Sentelle and Gibbons stressed the need for preparation: “It is critical that we prepare for the likelihood that, in spite of our best efforts, Congress will not be able to fund our needs . . . it will be necessary for all of us to take extraordinary steps to minimize the impact, not only on our staff, but the entire judicial process.”