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December 1998

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


Where the Money Goes

Allocating Resources in the Federal Judiciary for Fiscal Year 1999

Fiscal year 1999 may be the harbinger of fiscal belt-tightening to come. Although the Judiciary fared relatively well, receiving total obligations of $4.06 billion, a 6 percent increase, Congress did not provide funds for new positions associated with workload growth. This meant that the Judicial Conference Executive Committee was unable to fund all courts at 84 percent of staffing formulas based on current workload. Administrative Office Director Leonidas Ralph Mecham warned that bud-get restrictions government-wide could make the next fiscal year more difficult for the Judiciary.

"Budget Committee Chair Judge John Heyburn, committee members, my staff, and I will work hard to obtain from Congress the best appropriation possible for fiscal year 2000; nevertheless, we need to prepare for the possibility of a lean year," Mecham said.

Based upon recent experience, Congress likely will not give the Judiciary its full appropriation request in fiscal year 2000—possibly as much as $200 to $300 million less than needed. At that lower funding level, it may be difficult for courts to maintain current services, much less count on additional funding for workload increases. Cutbacks on current spending levels would be certain. "Given the potential magnitude of the shortfall, it is essential we proceed to develop operational options for fiscal year 2000 and beyond at the district, circuit, and national levels," Mecham said, "Planning for 2000 and beyond needs to be a priority for every Judicial Conference program committee."

FY99 is not without its own problems. Funding will be cut off on June 15 for all agencies in the Commerce, Justice, and State, the Judiciary and Related Agencies portion of the omnibus appropriations act. This limitation is a result of the debate over census sampling and hopefully will be resolved in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling on the census sampling litigation. A major effort is already underway to exempt the Judiciary from the June 15 potential cut-off. For the months through June, however, here is how the Judiciary will distribute its fiscal resources.