31 Court Facilities to be Downsized in First Year of Cost-Cutting Project
Thirty-one federal court facilities will be downsized or closed in a nationwide program to reduce work space, claiming more than $1.7 million in incentives to release underused offices back to the General Services Administration (GSA).
During the program’s first year, which ended Sept. 30, probation/pretrial offices accounted for four of the five largest cost-saving projects.
“It has been enormously successful,” said Judge D. Brooks Smith (3rd Circuit), chair of the Judicial Conference’s Space and Facilities Committee. “By offering courts a monetary incentive, we have given them an opportunity to focus on space reduction – and space reduction is priority Number One for the Space and Facilities Committee.”
The space reduction incentive program was approved by the Judicial Conference in September 2012, as part of a long-term campaign by the Judiciary to reduce space costs. Last month, the Conference expanded its space reduction goals, called on U.S. courts to reduce their overall space inventory target 3 percent by the end of FY 2018.
In the initial participating projects, rent savings are expected to pay off all upfront costs, including the incentive payments and staff relocation expenses, in about two years. After that, the annual rent savings for the Judiciary and taxpayers will be permanent.
The incentive payment can be applied to general operating expenses by the chief judge of the participating district court, bankruptcy court, or court of appeals. The allotment for space closures previously went back to the circuit.
The biggest single cost-saving project this year—$305,000—will result from the closing of 7,669 square feet of probation office space in Boston. Annual savings for probation office reductions in Atlanta, Los Angeles and Miami will range from $112,000 to $128,000 per location. The closure of a non-resident courthouse in Gadsden, Ala., will save $112,771 in annual rent for a district court space in the building, and $40,283 for a bankruptcy court in the same building. Combined savings to taxpayers for closing the two adjoining courts is about $153,000.
Annual Rent Savings
|Boston||Massachusetts Probation Office||7,669||$304,941.00|
|Los Angeles||California Central Probation Office||3,726||$128,400.00|
|Atlanta||Georgia Northern Probation Office||3,943||$118,543.00|
|Gadsden||Alabama Northern District Court||5,626||$112,771.00|
|Miami||Florida Southern Probation Office||2,159||$112,017.00|
Altogether, the 31 court units will release 66,341 square feet of usable space back to GSA, which manages all federal court space, and eliminate long-term annual rent obligations of about $1.7 million.
Rent is one of the largest components of the U.S. courts’ budget, and attempts to contain rent costs have been a top priority of the Judicial Conference since 2004. Since that time, projected annual rent costs have been reduced from $1.4 billion to $1.0 billion, a cost avoidance of nearly $400 million a year.
Although space-reduction initiatives save tax dollars by cutting long-term rent, the program is subject to funding availability, and that remains uncertain amid the ongoing budget debate.
“Of course, this program is dependent upon funding,” Judge Brooks said. “We actually make a type of investment through space reduction. Rent savings continue into the future and are available to fund other priorities—most importantly people. Court staff.”
He added: “The judiciary has been proactive and a good steward of taxpayers’ dollars. Space reduction is a judiciary-wide effort that must involve every court and every court unit throughout the country. Like it or not, shared sacrifice has got to be the message.”