Annual Report 2013
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.
My first six months as Director of the Administrative Office (AO) have been filled with challenges, accomplishments, and then more challenges. The already flat funding levels, exacerbated by the deep cuts of sequestration, affected virtually every operation and program throughout the federal courts. Staffing tumbled to the lowest levels since 1997, dragging down countless initiatives and programs, including many that were focused on saving or avoiding costs.
The Judiciary recognized early on the difficulties we were likely to face and planned to the best extent possible. Cost-containment efforts have been very successful in many areas. The Executive Committee made the difficult decisions relating to funding priorities, and judges and staff focused on accomplishing their core duties, while delaying, modifying, or canceling work that we simply could not afford. But as the Chief Justice said in his 2013 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary: "The budget remains the single most important issue facing the courts."
This annual report provides detailed information about court funding levels, their impact on specific programs, and our continuing cost-containment efforts. As I have learned, the responsibilities of Director are wide-ranging. Many of them relate to the financial well-being of the Judicial Branch. But there are other efforts that must continue, regardless of funding.
We continue to make progress in transitioning to the next generation of our Case Management/Electronic Case Filing System, and are implementing steps to enhance that progress. In 2013, an independent consulting firm assessed the PACER system, which provides the public with access to court records, and found that 90 percent of users were satisfied with the service, up 15 percent from a survey conducted three years earlier. This past summer the foundation was laid to switch court units from a legacy financial management system to a single integrated financial system for the Judiciary, which will increase productivity and improve the Judiciary's financial operations.
The AO and courts are working together on a number of facilities projects, including the integrated workplace initiative, which will reduce the Judiciary's space footprint by creating a more efficient work environment. These are the latest in our efforts that have reduced the Judiciary's rent expenditures by approximately $400 million since 2004. More than 75 district courts are using the eJuror system, which eliminates the expense of mailing juror summonses and allows prospective jurors to complete questionnaires online.
This past summer the AO undertook a major restructuring, which has streamlined our operations, reduced our costs, and increased our ability to respond to change. I am confident that these adjustments will better position the AO to meet future funding challenges while enhancing our tradition of excellence in service to the courts.
We have continued to work with Members of Congress on legislation affecting the courts, representing the Judiciary in Congressional hearings and briefings on our funding needs, sentencing, judgeships, courthouse planning, and dozens of other court-related issues. I am most appreciative of the efforts of judges and AO staff in their communications with Congress on these important subjects.
AO support to the Judicial Conference and its committees is a cornerstone of our work. The Conference committees, which we staff, are not only dealing with important issues of judicial administration and policy, but also are constantly exploring ways to save money and work more efficiently in their program areas.
This is an impressive list of accomplishments in the Judicial Branch that are particularly significant given the austere budgetary climate we have faced. The amount of time and resources the AO and court staff expended in reviewing and preparing for various funding scenarios was significant. It has been a hard year throughout the Judiciary, including at the AO. In the end, however, we can be proud of our efforts and the results.
I believe we are now entering a recovery and adjustment period. It would be catastrophic if the Judiciary had to continue to operate under sequestration levels of funding, and our recent budget successes are a ratification of the Judiciary's long-term commitment to contain costs and conserve resources. Every committee of the Judicial Conference, every advisory and working group, and countless judges and staff deserve credit for their roles in developing cost-saving ideas and taking often difficult steps to lower spending. Our continued commitment to this cause is essential to the future welfare of the Judicial Branch.
Of course it is Congress that ultimately has the power of the purse, and during this unusually challenging fiscal time we should acknowledge the favorable treatment the appropriators have provided us. When Congress approved a continuing resolution last fall, it restored a portion of our funding. And the recently enacted omnibus appropriations bill included an equitable allocation of the available funding to address the Judiciary's needs. We appreciate the attention and support of both the Appropriations and Judiciary Committees. But we must continue our efforts to educate all of Congress about the dire impact inadequate funding levels will have on the Judiciary and on the many individuals and businesses who depend on the federal courts to resolve their disputes and dispense justice.
I will conclude by echoing the Chief Justice's year-end remarks: "This past year, [judges, court staff, and judicial personnel throughout the Nation] have demonstrated admirable grit, fortitude, and creativity in matching the Judiciary's limited resources to the many demands of justice. In the face of unprecedented challenges, the federal courts continue to discharge their responsibilities with wisdom, diligence, and care."
It is a great honor to serve as the Director of the Administrative Office. I appreciate the support and confidence of the Chief Justice and the Judicial Conference. Their strong leadership has helped us immensely in weathering these difficult times. The fact that so much was accomplished in such a challenging fiscal climate is a tribute to the dedication and resourcefulness of judges, court staff, and AO staff, and I am proud to have been a part of that effort. I also am grateful for the fine work of my predecessor as Director, Judge Tom Hogan, who was invaluable in easing my transition into this position.
As a district judge and Director of the AO, I fully appreciate the crucial role that the administrative, governance, and policy-making functions of the Judiciary play in supporting our mission of providing fair and impartial justice. I believe the newly configured AO will do an even better job of assisting the courts in fulfilling this mission. Among the strengths of our branch of government are its resilience, cooperative approach, and problem-solving abilities. The partnership of the courts and the AO is a strong one and I am optimistic about our ability to work together to confront the challenges that are sure to come in 2014.
Thanks again for your support and continuing excellence. I invite your feedback on our work throughout the year to me and Deputy Director Jill Sayenga.
Judge John D. Bates