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Funding/Budget – Annual Report 2019

Congress appropriates funds for the Judiciary to carry out its constitutional duties and also provides funds to the General Services Administration for courthouse construction and maintenance. The Judiciary is committed to spending public funds in a responsible and cost-efficient way.

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Fiscal Year 2020 Funding for the Judiciary

On Dec. 20, 2019, the President signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020, a four-bill appropriations measure that included funding for the Judiciary. The legislation provided the Judiciary with $7.49 billion in discretionary funds for fiscal year (FY) 2020, a 3.2 percent ($234 million) overall increase above the FY 2019 level, but $79 million less than the Judiciary sought.

The federal government, including the Judiciary, began the fiscal year on Oct. 1, 2019, operating under a continuing resolution (CR) through Nov. 21 to keep government agencies open pending final action on appropriations bills. The CR was later extended to Dec. 20. The FY 2020 appropriations were included in the Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) appropriations bill, which funds the Judiciary.

Highlights of the legislation:

  • The Salaries and Expenses account that funds the courts’ operating expenses received $5.26 billion, a 2.1 percent ($106 million) increase above FY 2019, and $64 million below the amount that the Judiciary sought.
  • The Defender Services account received $1.23 billion, a 7.3 percent ($84 million) increase above FY 2019, and $11 million below the amount that the Judiciary sought. In order to balance program requirements with available funding, the Judiciary will have to defer hiring some additional federal defender staff.
  • Also in the Defender Services account, the bill allowed for inflationary adjustments to the capital and non-capital panel attorney rates to $195 and $152 per hour, respectively, for work performed after Jan. 1, 2020. The bill did not allow for the requested $1-above-inflation increase to the non-capital hourly rate to achieve the statutory maximum. The Judiciary will continue to seek the $1 increase for FY 2021.
  • The Court Security account received full funding of $639 million, a 5.3 percent ($32 million) increase above FY 2019, which is sufficient to fund essential security needs, infrastructure costs associated with ongoing courthouse construction projects, new court security officers, and other requirements.
  • The Fees of Jurors and Commissioners account received $53.5 million, a 7.6 percent ($3.8 million) increase above FY 2019, which is slightly below program requirements.
  • The bill authorizes a 3.1 percent pay adjustment for federal civilian workers effective the first pay period in January 2020. Judges will receive a 2.6 percent across-the-board salary adjustment but are ineligible for a .5 percent locality pay adjustment. Because funding was not appropriated to cover the pay increases, the Judiciary will have to absorb the estimated $100 million cost across all of its accounts.
  • The bill also included one-year extensions for 10 temporary district judgeships whose authorizations were set to expire in FY 2020. The judgeships are in the following districts: Northern Alabama, Arizona, Central California, Southern Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, Eastern Missouri, New Mexico, Western North Carolina, and Eastern Texas.

Fiscal Year 2019 Funding for the Judiciary

In February 2019, the President signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2019, which included fiscal year 2019 funding for the Judiciary.  The legislation provided $7.25 billion in discretionary appropriations, an overall increase of 2 percent above FY 2018 levels and a sufficient amount for the Judiciary to maintain current services.  It included $5.15 billion for salaries and general operating expenses; full funding for court security costs at $607 million; $50 million for jury costs; and $1.15 billion for defender services, including a $8 hourly increase, to $148, for panel attorneys – private attorneys appointed by federal courts to represent indigent defendants under the Criminal Justice Act in non-capital cases.  The bill authorized a 1.9 percent pay adjustment for Judiciary employees, except for federal judges, who received a 1.4 percent increase.

Lapse in Appropriations

The first part of 2019 was especially challenging for the Judiciary, during the 35-day lapse in appropriations that resulted when Congress and the White House failed to complete work on the fiscal year 2019 appropriations bills.  The federal court system was able to remain in operation and meet payroll obligations to its estimated 30,000 employees through careful financial management and reallocation of existing funds. The Judiciary used a multi-pronged strategy of deferring non-critical operating costs and using court filing fees and other available balances.

Many priority projects were delayed or put on hold during the funding lapse to focus efforts on keeping the courts open.  A team of Judiciary subject-matter experts developed the strategy, then assessed the status of funding each day. Court staff across the country took extraordinary steps to cut costs to make as much funding available as possible to keep the courts operating.  Detailed guidance for operating during the lapse was made available by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO) on the Judiciary’s intranet.  Clear and timely communications, in addition to feedback and support from the courts, were critical to mobilizing the branch-wide efforts.

After more than a month without new appropriations, the Judiciary had exhausted nearly all available resources and was poised for an orderly shutdown of operations.  Fortunately, the lapse ended on Jan. 25, after Congress and the White House agreed on funding levels for the government. In a February memorandum to the courts after the shutdown ended, AO Director James C. Duff wrote, “The efforts of the entire branch demonstrate public service at its best.”