Making PACER database free could cost US justice system more money, CBO says

  • CBO says Senate bill to make PACER free would add $77 million to deficit
  • CBO believes PACER modernization could significantly reduce long-term operational costs

Sept 28 (Reuters) – The Congressional Budget Office said federal justice would need more money to compensate for eliminating the costly fee the public pays to download court documents from its filing system electronic PACER if a bill in the US Senate becomes law.

But the CBO, in a report dated Monday, said the savings from phasing out the court system’s aging electronic case management system in favor of a new one would eventually offset most of the additional costs that the law on the open courts of 2021 would spawn.

Currently, users of PACER, which stands for Public Access to Court Electronic Records, are charged $0.10 per page to upload documents up to a cap of $3, which does not cover transcripts. PACER made its national debut in 2001.

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The bill would make electronic court records freely available and require the judiciary to develop a new website to access them. The judiciary said it was already working on adopting a modern electronic registration system.

In December, the Senate Judiciary Committee presented the bipartisan bill to the full Senate for consideration, but it lagged and the federal judiciary raised concerns about the impact it would have. on its funding.

If the judiciary were no longer able to collect the $150 million in fees that PACER brings in on average each year, Congress may have to appropriate $496 million over 10 years to maintain cybersecurity, electronic bankruptcy notices, and certain other services, the CBO said.

Over a decade, the bill will add $77 million to the federal deficit, the CBO said. But $74 million of that would be paid out over the first five years, when a new system is being developed.

The total cost of a new system would be $260 million through 2032, the CBO said. To temporarily fund the overhaul, the bill would allow the judiciary to increase PACER fees for high-volume users like law firms for the first three years.

The CBO said that once the groundwork is completed, the new system would cost $15 million per year, about one-fifth of the current system.

The US Courts Administrative Office said it was reviewing the report.

Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, sponsor of the bill, in a statement, called the CBO’s cost estimates “much higher than what agencies and experts have told my office that the upgrade.” day should cost”.

He said the legislation can be clarified if necessary.

Gabe Roth, a funder with the court reform group Fix the Court, said estimates of deficit spending should be “taken with a grain of salt” and that in the long run PACER’s overhaul will help to save money.

Read more:

PACER free? Bill to end fees for online court case advances in the Senate

US Department of Justice investigates cyber breach of federal court filing system

Fed judiciary says yes to free PACER searches. Here are the details so far

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Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Nathalie Raymond

Thomson Reuters

Nate Raymond reports on federal judiciary and litigation. He can be reached at