Federal Courthouses:

Rent Increases Due to New Space and Growing Energy and Security Costs Require Better Tracking and Management

GAO-06-613: Published: Jun 20, 2006. Publicly Released: Jun 22, 2006.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Mark L. Goldstein
(202) 512-3000
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

The judiciary pays over $900 million in rent annually to GSA for court-related space, and this amount represents a growing proportion of the judiciary's budget. The judiciary's rent payments are deposited into GSA's Federal Buildings Fund (FBF), a revolving fund used to finance GSA's real property services, including the construction and repair of federal facilities under GSA control. In December 2004, the judiciary requested a $483 million dollar permanent, annual rent exemption, which GSA denied, saying that it undermined the intent of FBF and that GSA was unlikely to obtain appropriations to replace lost FBF income. GAO identified (1) recent trends in the judiciary's rent and space occupied and (2) challenges that the judiciary faces in managing its rent costs.

The federal judiciary's rental obligations to GSA for courthouses have increased from $780 million to $990 million--or 27 percent from fiscal years 2000 through 2005, after controlling for inflation--primarily due to a simultaneous net increase in space from 33.6 million to 39.8 million rentable square feet, a 19 percent increase nationwide. Much of the net increase in space was the result of new courthouses that the judiciary has taken occupancy of since 2000. According to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AOUSC), the judiciary's workload has grown and the number of court staff has doubled since 1985. Shell rent (the building with basic infrastructure) increased proportionately with net square footage growth, but operational (utilities and general maintenance) and security costs grew disproportionately higher than square footage due to external factors, such as increasing energy costs and security requirements. Neither GSA nor the judiciary had routinely and comprehensively analyzed the factors causing rent increases, making it more difficult for the judiciary to manage increases. The federal judiciary faces several challenges to managing its rental obligations, including costly new construction requirements, a lack of incentives for efficient space use, and a lack of space allocation criteria for appeals and senior judges. First, building requirements, such as three separate circulation patterns for judges, prisoners, and the public and other structural and architectural elements make courthouses among the most expensive federal facilities to construct, often leading to higher rent payments. Second, the judiciary has begun a rent validation effort intended to monitor GSA rent charges, but it does not address the lack of incentives for efficient space management that we found at the circuit and district levels. An example of the inefficiencies that may result is in the Eastern District of Virginia, where the judiciary paid about $272,000 in 2005 to rent space for an appeals judge in McLean, Virginia, in addition to paying for space designated for that judge in a nearby federal courthouse that the judiciary later used for alternative purposes. Finally, the lack of criteria for assigning courtrooms for appeals and senior judges can contribute to inefficiencies in the amount of space provided, which can result in higher rent payments.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To help the federal judiciary better understand and manage rent costs, the judiciary should work with GSA to track rent and square footage trend data on an annual basis for geographic location (circuit and district levels).

    Agency Affected: Judicial Conference of the United States: Federal Judiciary

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To help the federal judiciary better understand and manage rent costs, the judiciary should work with GSA to track rent and square footage trend data on an annual basis for rentable square footage.

    Agency Affected: Judicial Conference of the United States: Federal Judiciary

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To help the federal judiciary better understand and manage rent costs, the judiciary should work with GSA to track rent and square footage trend data on an annual basis for judicial function (district, appeals, and bankruptcy).

    Agency Affected: Judicial Conference of the United States: Federal Judiciary

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To help the federal judiciary better understand and manage rent costs, the judiciary should work with GSA to track rent and square footage trend data on an annual basis for rent component (shell rent, operations, tenant improvements, and other costs) and security (paid to the Department of Homeland Security).

    Agency Affected: Judicial Conference of the United States: Federal Judiciary

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To help the federal judiciary better understand and manage rent costs, the judiciary should work with the Judicial Conference of the United States to improve the way it manages its space and associated rent costs. Specifically, the federal judiciary should create incentives for districts/circuits to manage space more efficiently. These incentives could take several forms, such as a pilot project that that charges rent to circuits and/or districts to encourage more efficient space use. Also, the federal judiciary should revise the Design Guide to (1) establish criteria for the number of appeals courtrooms and chambers, (2) establish criteria for the space allocated for senior district judges, and (3) make additional improvements to space allocation standards related to technological advancements (e.g., libraries, court reporter space, and staff efficiency due to technology) and decrease requirements where appropriate.

    Agency Affected: Judicial Conference of the United States: Federal Judiciary

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Mar 26, 2014

    Jan 13, 2014

    Dec 9, 2013

    Dec 6, 2013

    Nov 20, 2013

    Oct 29, 2013

    Sep 25, 2013

    Sep 12, 2013

    Sep 10, 2013

    Jul 31, 2013

    Looking for more? Browse all our products here