Annual Report 2012
As required by statute, the Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts shall submit to Congress and the Judicial Conference a report of the activities of the Administrative Office and the state of the business of the courts.
Although the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, like the rest of the federal government, faced constant budgetary uncertainty in 2012, it did not diminish our commitment to service, excellence, integrity, and teamwork—our core values.
The specter of sequestration confronted us throughout the year and was a consideration in virtually all judicial branch activities and programs. In fact, as I write this message, the so-called fiscal cliff continues to loom. While its precise long-term impact is unclear, we know that sequestration will adversely affect several thousand court employees' jobs. This would come on top of an on-board staffing level that is already 8.3 percent below the July 31, 2011 level—a loss of 1,837 employees.
Coupled with the foreknowledge of an ever-tightening federal budget, this past year the AO spent a good deal of time on contingency planning, based on various funding scenarios.
As the Chief Justice noted in his 2012 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary, although the judicial branch consumes “a miniscule portion of the federal budget,”—the equivalent of two-tenths of one penny—“it must continue to do its part to search out cost savings in the face of the government’s budget deficit.”
Our record in this area is exemplary. Eight years ago the Federal Judiciary began a review of virtually all policies, practices, and procedures with an eye toward controlling costs. This gave rise to “cost containment,” a phrase that is embedded in the Judicial Branch's lexicon, with real meaning that permeates the federal courts and their operations.
With the active involvement of Judicial Conference committees and court advisory groups, real savings have been achieved in rent, personnel, and information technology. Identifying additional possible reductions that will not adversely affect the delivery of justice has become a growing challenge.
“A significant and prolonged shortfall in judicial funding would inevitably result in the delay or denial of justice for the people the courts serve,” the Chief Justice said in his report.
Yet despite the challenging environment in which we must operate, 2012 has been a productive year. In the best tradition of the Judiciary, we are making progress with innovative programs, enhanced technology, and improved services to support the work of the courts. I believe we are working more efficiently and with a greater degree of accountability and ingenuity.
Whether supporting Judicial Conference committees, designing the next generation of the case management/electronic case files system, updating our accounting system, or assisting courts to improve online services for jurors, the AO is carefully deploying limited resources to meet the most critical court and public needs.
Budgetary shortfalls will assuredly present a challenge we must confront for the foreseeable future. The Judicial Conference’s Executive Committee and Budget Committee have been firm and prescient in their leadership, limiting the Judiciary’s funding requests and determining how best to spend the scarce resources we have. Judges and unit executives throughout the country have made difficult day-to-day decisions in the face of great unease over future resources.
The hurdles before us go well beyond budgetary considerations. We must assure that the core Judiciary functions required by the Constitution and expected by the public remain intact. The courts cannot conduct their business without judges. This year important legislation extended 29 existing temporary bankruptcy judgeships that were badly needed in and could have expired in 19 judicial districts.
Maintaining our core functions, however, will continue to be a difficult task. After several years of virtually flat funding, the cuts are coming perilously close to the bone. The prospect of more broad and deep cuts mandated by sequestration—with the resulting potential losses to services and personnel—is troubling.
Yet, as the Chief Justice stated in his 2012 report: “Throughout its history, our Nation has withstood daunting tests and always emerged strong, secure and optimistic. . . . We know from our experience that our durable Constitution provides the framework needed for able hands to overcome any obstacle, consistent with the rule of law.”
Judges, court staff, and AO employees share a commitment and a sense of resolve, as well as an obligation to do our part to maintain what the Chief Justice called “a Judiciary that is second to none.”
I hope this report provides you with an informative overview of the AO and its activities during the past year. I am proud of our accomplishments and the dedication and resourcefulness of our staff. Please share your comments with Deputy Director Jill Sayenga or me. Open communication and shared ideas will redound to the betterment of the Judicial Branch and those we serve. Thank you.
Judge Thomas F. Hogan