Federal Fiscal Trends:

Fiscal Years 1971-1995

AIMD-97-3: Published: Nov 1, 1996. Publicly Released: Nov 1, 1996.

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GAO studied the fiscal components of the budget, focusing on revenue and outlay trends, and the underlying factors contributing to those trends.

GAO noted that: (1) although federal revenues have more than doubled in constant dollars over the last 25 years, they have maintained a generally consistent share of the gross domestic product (GDP) during this period; (2) all revenue sources, except excise taxes, have shown real growth over the last 25 years, but only social insurance taxes have increased as a share of total revenues; (3) tax expenditures increased significantly in constant dollars and as a share of revenues until the Tax Reform Act of 1986, but since 1989 they have resumed their upward climb, constituting 32 percent of revenues in 1994; (4) collections which arise from business-type transactions with the public have doubled in constant dollars since 1971; (5) these receipts have generally been the third largest revenue source during this period and, since 1981, have annually exceeded the combined shares of corporate and excise taxes as a percent of total federal revenues; (6) a few large entitlement programs, such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and interest payments have accounted for over three-quarters of the total outlay growth since 1971; (7) overall spending for entitlement and other mandatory programs arising outside of the annual appropriations process grew more than four times faster in real terms than appropriated spending; (8) within discretionary spending, defense and domestic outlay patterns have varied during this period, showing both periods of growth and decline; (9) during the last 25 years, changes in outlay patterns have also documented shifts in the mission priorities of the federal government; and (10) although overall levels differ, the United States has generally allotted a smaller share of its GDP to government activities than most other governments.

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