Wyden, Colleagues Call for Increased Funding of Federal Public Defender Program

Washington, D.C. U.S. Senator Ron Wyden today joined a bipartisan group of colleagues in calling on the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee to fully fund the Federal Defender Services program in the upcoming  Fiscal Year 2025 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill.

“In FY24, Defender Services was appropriated $1.45 billion, and in FY25, the Judiciary is requesting $1.69 billion. This essential funding supports the 4,420 attorneys, investigators, paralegals, and support personnel throughout the 82 federal defender organizations serving 92 of 94 judicial districts, as well as the Criminal Justice Act (CJA) contracted panel attorneys who represent indigent individuals when federal defenders are unable to due to conflicts of interest or other reasons. The proposed increase will address inflationary costs, long-deferred necessary upgrades in IT and infrastructure, and additional federal public defenders to account for rising caseloads,” Wyden and colleagues wrote. 

Nearly 9 in 10 individuals charged with a federal crime cannot afford legal representation and thus are constitutionally entitled to appointed counsel. When there is a shortage in public defenders, the court must refer more cases to private attorneys on the Criminal Justice Act panel. This costs the federal government more by outsourcing public defenders more often. 

“During the FY24 budget cycle, Defender Services narrowly avoided a funding shortfall that would have caused public defender layoffs and deferred payments to CJA panel attorneys,” Wyden and the senators wrote. “Thankfully, Congress acted to provide sufficient funds to avoid layoffs and end a hiring freeze that had caused a significant number of positions to go unfilled. For FY25, the Judiciary has submitted an appropriate request that should be fully funded this budget cycle.” 

Wyden has continuously been an advocate for supporting the Federal Defender program. In October 2023, Wyden joined Senate colleagues in sending a letter to the Appropriations Committee calling to fund the federal program.

The bipartisan letter was led by Senator Peter Welch (D-Vt.). Along with Wyden, the letter was also signed by Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Senators Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), Laphonza Butler (D-Calif.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Bob Casey, Jr. (D-Pa.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). 

The full text of the letter is here.