Judiciary Seeks 2021 Funding, Cites Growing Workload

Federal Judiciary officials have asked Congress for $7.8 billion in FY 2021 to fund judicial branch operations. The request includes funding to keep pace with increased criminal prosecutions, new judicial appointments, and the increased need for probation supervision of offenders released from prison.

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

Lungstrum 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). They presented the Judiciary’s budget request for FY 2021, which starts October 1, 2020.

“I join Judge Lungstrum in thanking the Subcommittee for its generous and consistent support of the Judiciary,” Duff said. “By providing the resources needed by the AO and the rest of the branch, you are ensuring that the Judiciary can continue to perform its vital role as intended and required.”

The FY 2021 budget request reflects an overall increase of 4.4 percent to maintain current services and to fund priority initiatives.

Lungstrum cited several examples in which actions of the executive and legislative branches have become “significant new cost drivers” for the Judiciary. 

  • Sharply increasing criminal prosecutions since 2017, especially in the areas of immigration, weapons, and violent crime, have increased the need for pretrial supervision of defendants, and for presentence reports. Workload projections for federal defender organizations also are rising, prompting a request for $24 million to hire 237 new federal defender organization positions.
  • Judge confirmations in FY 2019 and FY 2020 are expected to more than double appointments for the previous two years. “Filling judicial vacancies more quickly is positive for the administration of justice, but also increases the Judiciary’s costs,” Lungstrum said, especially for courtrooms, chambers, and chambers staff.
  • First Step Act criminal justice reform legislation, enacted in 2018, is resulting in some offenders gaining early release from prison to community supervision. This will increase the need for federal probation officers to ensure public safety and aid the successful reentry of offenders back into their communities.

Lungstrum also itemized ways the Judiciary has reduced or slowed spending since it began a formal cost containment program in 2005.

He noted that a five-year space reduction campaign, which eliminated 1.2 million square feet of court building space, resulted in approximately $36 million in annual rent cost avoidance. Additional process changes negotiated with the General Services Administration, under an initiative known as the Service Validation Initiative, also produced nearly $80 million in annual cost avoidance.

Lungstrum added, “I commit to you that we will continue our efforts to be conscientious and reliable stewards of any funds entrusted to us, seeking to show wisdom and prudence not just in our judicial opinions but in our resource management as well.”

Duff told the House panel that the Administrative Office is seeking $99.8 million, an increase of $5.6 million over FY 2020. Most of the increase is to cover inflationary adjustments. The AO also requested funding for additional positions, including $364,000 for two new positions in the Judicial Integrity Office to help provide employees throughout the Judiciary with advice and assistance on workplace conduct matters.

“I am pleased with the work we have accomplished to date,” Duff said, referring to a comprehensive Judiciary effort launched in early 2018. “However, we recognize that addressing workplace misconduct is an ongoing effort and we remain committed to refining our procedures to achieve a safe and respectful work environment for all Judiciary employees.”

Review the Judiciary’s FY 2021 Congressional Budget Summary and complete FY 2021 Congressional Budget Justification.