Appropriations:

Continuing Resolutions and an Assessment of Automatic Funding Approaches

AFMD-86-16: Published: Jan 29, 1986. Publicly Released: Mar 12, 1986.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO studied Congress' use of continuing resolutions as temporary funding measures, specifically: (1) changes in their nature and use; (2) their effect on government operations; and (3) whether an automatic mechanism to provide temporary funding to agencies has merit.

GAO found that continuing resolution legislation: (1) was short in length and duration in the 1960's; (2) has expanded in recent years to occasionally include provisions that go beyond a bill's basic purposes; (3) has become more comprehensive, with funding for larger numbers of agencies and for longer periods of time; and (4) causes funding uncertainty when it is not passed on time, resulting in temporary agency shutdowns, employee furloughs, and costly disruptions to entitlement program recipients. GAO also found that an automatic continuing resolution approach: (1) would provide agency operations funding when appropriation bills are delayed because it would eliminate the interruptions associated with current continuing resolution procedures, such as votes, amendments, and presidential signatures or vetoes; and (2) could reduce the pressure on Congress to reach closure on difficult issues in appropriations bills and create a procedural bias in favor of continued funding at levels not necessarily based on need. GAO evaluated several approaches for automatic funding and concluded that one that would provide funding at the previous year's rate would: (1) be easiest to administer; (2) reduce the potential for an immediate bias in favor of either the incumbent administration or Congress; and (3) maintain stability and continuity in government operations and recipient services. GAO noted that it did not modify its findings to address requirements and implications of the newly enacted Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985.

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