Budget and Spending:
An Overview of Unobligated Balances in Civil Agencies
PAD-78-48, Apr 1, 1978
The growth in the past 5 years in unobligated balances of Federal and trust funds and in unliquidated obligations has raised concern about the validity and credibility of funding requests and about the ability of Federal agencies to carry out planned programs in a timely manner.
In fiscal year (FY) 1972, unobligated balances of budget authority in civil agencies totaled $165 billion; by FY 1977, this increased to $235 billion. During that 6-year period, yearly increases in unobligated balances were consistently larger than were projected in the President's budget. An analysis of actual versus estimated unobligated balances in civil agencies showed that between FYs 1972 and 1977, the agencies tended to underestimate unobligated balances. On the average, from FYs 1972 through 1977, first estimates differed from actual balances by 14%. First estimates for five trust funds analyzed tended to be more accurate than were those for Federal fund accounts. The average difference between the first estimates and actual balances was 7%. Department of Defense (DOD) balances accounted for about 12% of total unobligated balances in FY 1976, and were estimated to account for about 9% in FY 1978. DOD unobligated balances are primarily Federal funds for procurement programs, whereas civil unobligated balances are related to purposes ranging from backup authority for guarantee and insurance programs to construction programs. Civil agencies also maintain large balances in trust funds.