January/February 2016: Full Funding for the Federal Judiciary

Washington Watch | January/February 2016
By Bruce Moyer

The new year is off to a good start for the federal judiciary. Its financial resources—used to promptly administer justice in the year ahead—are in very good shape as a result of recent congressional action. Courthouse construction and improvements will move ahead for the first time in more than a decade under a massive, governmentwide spending bill approved by Congress in December 2015. The omnibus spending measure provides full funding for the federal judiciary as part of an overall $1.1 trillion appropriation for the government through September 2016.

In specific terms, the omnibus provides the judiciary with a total of $6.78 billion in discretionary appropriations for FY2016, a 1.2 percent ($80 million) increase above last year. According to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO), the funding mark fully funds the judiciary’s spending needs for 2016 at planned levels. This represents the third straight year that the judiciary has received full funding of its requested needs—a significant achievement in the post-sequestration era.

“All members of the Federal Bar Association should take pride in this funding accomplishment,” said W. West Allen, chair of the FBA Government Relations Committee. “The FBA’s advocacy before Congress in support of the federal judiciary’s spending request played a key role, especially through our meetings with lawmakers during Capitol Hill Day [in April 2015]. The judiciary’s responsible stewardship of its resources and our advocacy helped to assure a very favorable funding outcome.”

New Courthouse Construction 
and Improved Security
The omnibus bill provides $948 million in lump sum funding for new courthouse construction, a significant infusion of resources for the judiciary’s courthouse construction program. Those funds will be used to fully fund the judiciary’s top eight courthouse projects: Nashville, Tenn.; Toledo, Ohio; Charlotte, N.C.; Des Moines, Iowa; Greenville, S.C.; Anniston, Ala.; Savannah, Ga.; and San Antonio, Texas. Those projects were given priority by the Judicial Conference in its Courthouse Priorities Plan at its September 2015 meeting. A ninth project in Harrisburg, Penn., will receive partial construction funding. In addition, the omnibus includes resources for a new federal building and courthouse in Greenville, Miss., ($46 million) and for GSA’s purchase of the federal building and courthouse in Rutland, Vt., from the U.S. Postal Service ($6 million). (Mississippi and Vermont are the home states of the chair and second-ranking minority member of the Senate appropriations committee.)

Court security funding was particularly beefed up. The judiciary received a nearly 5 percent increase above last year’s funding level, including resources to increase the number of court security officers at courthouses. Continued authorization for a pilot project permitting the U.S. Marshals Service to assume perimeter security responsibilities from the Federal Protection Service at designated courthouses also was renewed.

Court Personnel Spending
Overall, much of the federal judiciary’s annual budget is devoted to the payment of salaries and compensation of court personnel. In that regard, the omnibus provided nearly $5 billion, a 1.5 percent ($73 million) increase for salaries and expenses above last year at a level that will avoid the need for personnel cuts and layoffs. It authorizes an upward salary adjustment of 1.3 percent for court employees—1.0 percent base pay adjustment and a 0.3 percent locality pay adjustment—beginning in January 2016, but freezes the pay of senior Executive Branch officials and members of Congress. Federal judges will receive an upward adjustment of 1.0 percent, the base pay adjustment received by General Schedule employees.

The omnibus measure also requires the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to provide each individual impacted by recent OPM data breaches with complimentary identity protection coverage for at least 10 years and identity theft insurance of at least $5 million.

Operational Priorities 
and Temporary Judgeships
Significant operational priorities are also funded by the omnibus, including the expansion of the judiciary’s enterprise hosting and cloud computing initiative to more courts, the replacement of the judiciary’s email system and greater use by federal probation supervisors of evidence-based practices to reduce recidivism. Adequate funding for jury fees is also provided, though the judiciary’s requested $10 increase in the daily attendance fee (from $40 to $50) was not approved.

Finally, nine temporary district judgeships are extended, at the judiciary’s request, in the Eastern District of Missouri, District of Kansas, District of Arizona, Central District of California, Northern District of Alabama, Southern District of Florida, District of New Mexico, Western District of North Carolina, and Eastern District of Texas.
Bruce Moyer is government relations counsel for the FBA. © 2016 Bruce Moyer. All rights reserved.

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