Budget Issues:

The President's Current Services Budget

AFMD-87-10: Published: Dec 2, 1986. Publicly Released: Jan 5, 1987.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the current services budget to determine: (1) whether procedures for developing current services estimates complied with the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974; and (2) how to improve the usefulness of current services estimates to Congress.

GAO noted that the act requires the President to submit a current services budget to Congress showing the estimated outlays and proposed budget authority for the following fiscal year if the government maintained all programs and activities at their current levels. GAO found that: (1) the Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) definition of policy for certain agencies and programs, although different from its general current services guidelines, is not inconsistent with the act's requirements, since the act does not discuss or define policy; (2) the use of different policy definitions lessens the current services budget's usefulness to Congress as a budget tool; (3) congressional staff involved in the budget process do not regularly use the current services budget because the Congressional Budget Office's information is more useful; (4) budget examiners' use of inconsistent estimating methods and OMB use of exceptions to its own guidelines could result in a current services budget developed to support the President's proposed policies rather than to highlight the fiscal effects of proposed policy changes; and (5) elimination of the legal requirement for the current services budget would help prevent the use of its estimates to support particular policies.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The administration and Congress use baseline estimates that conform to the requirements of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings legislation. To alleviate confusion resulting from multiple baselines, the current services baseline is no longer used.

    Matter: If the requirement for a current services budget is retained, Congress should amend the budget act to specifically define the set of policies to be assumed in developing the current services estimates. While judgment is always required in making budget estimates, the use of a defined set of policies would ensure a common understanding between Congress and OMB as to what the current services budget represents, making it a more useful budgetary tool.

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: The administration and Congress use baseline estimates that conform to the requirements of the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings legislation. To alleviate confusion resulting from multiple baselines, the current services baseline is no longer used.

    Matter: For the current services budget to best serve the purpose of providing a baseline for highlighting the fiscal effects of policy changes proposed in the President's budget, Congress should use the most current policy reflected in law to develop it. Congress should specifically define current policy at a sufficient level of detail to ensure that OMB provides the type of information that would be useful to Congress as a baseline. The definition of the budget base in the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 is an example of the detail required in such a definition.

 

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