Budget Process:

Biennial Budgeting for the Federal Government

T-AIMD-00-121: Published: Mar 10, 2000. Publicly Released: Mar 10, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the proposals to change the entire budget process from an annual to a biennial cycle.

GAO noted that: (1) the biennial bills before Congress would shift the entire budget cycle from annual to biennial; (2) the President would submit a budget every year; (3) authorizations would be for 2 years or longer; (4) budget resolutions would be adopted and appropriations enacted every 2 years; (5) Congress would be required to enact two 1-year appropriations; (6) all the biennial budget bills introduced in this Congress provide for this kind of cycle; (7) most extend the time provided for development of the budget resolution--moving it from April 15 to May 15--and hence shorten the time provided for appropriations action in the first session of a Congress; (8) experience with multiyear fiscal policy agreements and multiyear authorizations provides no evidence to suggest that budget agreements, authorizations, budget resolutions, and appropriations need to cover the same time period; (9) multiyear fiscal policy agreements and multiyear authorizations make a great deal of sense, but they do not require changing the appropriations decision cycle from annual to biennial; (10) if multiyear agreements on spending caps and enforcement regimes are continued, a biennial budget resolution may also be possible; (11) while biennial appropriations could save time for agencies and for Congress, they would result in a change in the nature of congressional control and oversight; (12) proposals to change the process should be considered partly on the basis of their effect on the relative balance of power in this debate; (13) similarly, any mechanisms developed to implement biennial budgeting could have an impact on the balance of power; (14) GAO previously supported the use of multiyear authorizations for federal programs; (15) these can help both Congress and the executive branch by providing a longer-term perspective within which a program may operate and appropriations be determined; (16) in considering whether the federal government should shift to a biennial budget, it is important to recognize the critical distinction between how often budget decisions are made and how long the spending authority provided for agency use is available; (17) for agency budget officials--both agency budget officers and program managers--the arguments for biennial budgeting may seem quite strong; and (18) if Congress decides to proceed with a change to a biennial budget cycle, including a biennial appropriations cycle--careful thought will need to be given to implementation issues.

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