Budget Process:

Extending Budget Controls

GAO-02-682T: Published: Apr 25, 2002. Publicly Released: Apr 25, 2002.

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Susan J. Irving
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The events of September 11 imposed new demands on the federal budget, while pent-up demands from years of fighting deficits remain. In the past, GAO has suggested four broad principles for a budget process. That process should (1) provide information on the long-term impact of decisions, both macro--linking fiscal policy to the long-term economic outlook--and micro--providing recognition of the long-term spending implications of government commitments; (2) provide information and focus on important macro trade-offs--e.g., between investment and consumption; (3) provide information to make informed trade-offs between missions and between the different policy tools of government; and (4) be enforceable, provide for control and accountability, and be transparent, using clear, consistent definitions. New rules and goals will be necessary to ensure fiscal discipline and to focus on long term implications of decisions. The federal government still needs a decision-making framework to evaluate choices between today's and future needs. Amending the current Budget Enforcement Act without setting realistic caps and addressing mandatory programs is unlikely to be successful because the original act used limited actions to achieve a balanced budget. A budget process appropriate for the early 21st century needs a broader framework for thinking about near- and long-term fiscal goals.

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