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Funding/Budget – Annual Report 2020

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.

Congressional Testimony on Fiscal Year 2021 Appropriations

Director Duff and Judge John W. Lungstrum

AO Director James C. Duff (left) and Judge John W. Lungstrum, chair of the Judicial Conference Committee on the Budget, testify at a congressional hearing on the Judiciary’s 2021 budget.

Judiciary officials in February asked Congress for $7.8 billion in fiscal year 2021 to fund judicial branch operations. The request included funding to keep pace with increased criminal prosecutions, new judicial appointments, and the supervision of ex-offenders released from prison.

Judge John W. Lungstrum, chair of the Judicial Conference Committee on the Budget, testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government. He was joined by James C. Duff, Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO).

“The Judiciary is experiencing the budget impacts of significant workload and caseload increases across its programs,” Judge Lungstrum said. “When investments are made in one part of the criminal justice system, those investments have ripple effects across the system.”  

The budget request reflected an overall increase of 4.4 percent over the previous fiscal year to maintain current services and to fund priority initiatives. Lungstrum cited several examples in which actions of the executive and legislative branches had become “significant new cost drivers” for the Judiciary.

Sharply increasing criminal prosecutions since 2017, especially in the areas of immigration, weapons, and violent crime, increased the need for pretrial supervision of defendants and for presentence reports. Workload projections for federal defender organizations also rose, prompting a request for $24 million for 237 new federal defender positions.

In addition, First Step Act criminal justice reform legislation, enacted in 2018, resulted in some offenders gaining early release from prison to community supervision, increasing the demand on federal probation officers to ensure public safety and their clients’ successful reentry into communities.

Judicial confirmations in fiscal years 2019 and 2020 were expected to more than double the number of the previous two years, with a significant impact on salary and space needs.

The AO requested $364,000 for two new positions in the Office of Judicial Integrity to help provide employees throughout the Judiciary with advice and assistance on workplace conduct matters.

COVID-19 Relief Funding

On March 27, 2020, the President signed into law the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), a wide-ranging economic stimulus and pandemic response bill that provided state and local governments with emergency funds for hospitals, veterans’ health care, protective equipment, and other medical needs. The legislation included the $7.5 million requested by the Judiciary to address immediate COVID-19 response needs in the courts. The funds were to address immediate information technology (IT) needs as the Judiciary workforce transitioned to reliance on telework and for increased drug testing and mental health treatment services in probation and pretrial services offices across the country.

In April, after receiving input from courts and federal defender organizations nationwide, the AO wrote to Congress to request $37 million in additional Judiciary supplemental funding for costs related to the pandemic. The funds were to be used for enhanced cleaning of court facilities; health screening at courthouses; IT hardware; costs associated with expanded telework, videoconferencing, and security; and additional expenses related to offenders being released from prison and those on pretrial release. The request included 17 legislative proposals needed to address immediate COVID-19 impacts on the federal courts and for court operations after the pandemic. 

Congress passed a catchall, year-end spending bill in December 2020 called the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. It included $900 billion in additional pandemic relief but did not include the Judiciary’s $37 million request for supplemental funding. Pandemic provisions in the bill focused on relief for individuals and businesses and did not address federal agency internal operations for costs related to telework, IT needs, building cleaning, and screening. The AO planned to reevaluate the Judiciary’s supplemental funding needs in early 2021.

Fiscal Year 2021 Funding for the Judiciary

When the federal government, including the Judiciary, began fiscal year 2021 on Oct. 1, 2020, none of the 12 appropriations bills had been enacted. Congress passed a continuing resolution (CR) to keep government agencies open through Dec. 11 and a subsequent series of CRs to keep the government operating through Dec. 28.

On Dec. 21, Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, which included all of the appropriations bills governmentwide, pandemic relief funds for individuals and businesses, and some authorization bills. The President signed the bill on Dec. 27.

The bill provided the Judiciary with a total of $7.72 billion in discretionary appropriations for fiscal year 2021, a 3.1 percent ($233 million) increase over fiscal year 2020. The allocation was $117 million below the level sought by the Judiciary (and did not include its supplemental request related to pandemic costs).

Highlights of the legislation:

Fiscal Year 2020 Funding for the Judiciary

In December 2019, the President signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020, which included fiscal year 2020 funding for the Judiciary. The legislation provided $7.5 billion in discretionary appropriations, an overall increase of 3.2 percent over fiscal year 2019 levels. This increase, though lower than the 4.3 percent the Judiciary had sought, was approved amid tight funding constraints that year, indicating congressional support for the Branch.

The legislation included $5.26 billion for salaries and general operating expenses; full funding for court security costs at $639 million; $53.5 million for jury costs; and $1.23 billion for defender services, including inflationary adjustments to the capital and non-capital panel attorney hourly rates. The bill authorized a 3.1 percent pay increase for federal employees, including Judiciary employees. Federal judges received a 2.6 percent salary increase. (They are ineligible for the government’s locality adjustments, which take into account regional cost-of-living differences.) Because funding for the pay increases was not appropriated by Congress, the Judiciary had to absorb the estimated $100 million cost across all accounts.