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Friday, July 19, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Courts Squeeze Office Space in Budget Fight

(CN) - Federal courts heralded a program to give up space in 31 court offices for $1.7 million in annual savings, but warned that budget battles in Washington may undermine cost-cutting efforts.

The General Services Administration will receive 66,341 square feet in offices the judiciary deems surplus to requirements, as part of space-reduction initiatives designed to save tax dollars, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts announced Tuesday.

As policy-making body for the federal courts, the Judicial Conference's space-reduction incentive program ended on Sept. 30.

Shrinking probation and pretrial office space accounts for the largest cost savings, the federal courts said.

The Judicial Conference's Space and Facilities Committee asked federal courts to hit a 3 percent space reduction target by the end of fiscal year 2018.

The courts warned that the program could be jeopardized if budget fights - which caused sequestration cuts, the government shutdown and another debt ceiling crisis - remain.

While Third Circuit Judge Brooks Smith called the program "enormously successful," he said it is "dependent upon funding."

"We actually make a type of investment through space reduction," Brooks said in a statement to Third Branch News. "Rent savings continue into the future and are available to fund other priorities - most importantly people. Court staff."

Brooks called the federal courts a "good steward of taxpayers' dollars" and urged courts to look at how they can reduce space.

"Like it or not, shared sacrifice has got to be the message," Brooks said.

It will take about two years to pay off incentive payments, staff relocation expenses, and other costs. Once those obligations are met, annual rent savings will become permanent, the federal courts said.

The $1.7 million in incentives will fund operations of courts that opted into the program.

The biggest saving came from the closure of 7,669 square-feet of the Massachusetts Probation Office in Boston, for a yearly saving of $305,000.

In Boston, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Gadsden, Ala. and Miami, the courts released a total of 23,123 square-feet of space to the GSA for savings of $776,672.

Long-term rent obligations remain one of the largest drains on the court's budget, and the Judicial Conference views cuts in that area as a "top priority," according to Third Branch News.

The newsletter notes that since 2004, projected annual rent costs were cut from $1.4 billion to $1.0 billion, for $400 million in annual savings.

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