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Washington-The federal judiciary’s building rent crisis is the direct result of its construction boom and failure over the last decade to implement its own recommendations for reform, said a key House lawmaker, citing to a recent study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The House Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management directed the GAO to study the judiciary’s rent situation after the judiciary sought a permanent rent exemption from the Federal Buildings Fund, claiming that rising government rent payments were creating a fiscal crisis. The GAO reported that the judiciary’s rent increase from 2000 to 2005 was 27%. About two-thirds of that was attributable to net increases in square footage, much of which was caused by new courthouse construction. “The federal judiciary faces several challenges to managing its rent costs including costly new construction requirements, a lack of incentives for efficient space use, and a lack of space allocation criteria for appeals and senior district judges,” said the GAO report. House Subcommittee Chairman Representative Bill Shuster, R-Pa., said that a Judicial Conference of the United States committee in 1996 recognized proposed solutions that could address rising rent costs. “The Judiciary understood the ramifications of their building boom, yet implemented few of their own recommendations for reform,” said Shuster at a subcommittee hearing in June. “The Judiciary failed to manage their space requirements and has asked for the equivalent of a ‘get out of jail free’ card.” Judge Jane R. Roth of the 3d U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, chairwoman of the Judicial Conference’s Committee on Space and Facilities, said that the GAO study was “too limited.” The GAO highlighted a six-year period with 27% rent growth, but a 20-year analysis during which rent grew at double the rate of new space is a more meaningful statistic, she said. The bulk of the judiciary’s rent bill is not for new space but to pay rent for old courthouses, according to Roth. Shuster said that he was concerned about claims of errors in rent bills and inaccurate appraisals. The judiciary claims more than $38 million in overcharges and faulty appraisals.

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