Budget Process:

Comments on S.261--Biennial Budgeting and Appropriations Act

T-AIMD-97-84: Published: Apr 23, 1997. Publicly Released: Apr 23, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the provisions of S. 261, focusing on: (1) state experiences with biennial budgeting; and (2) provisions regarding GAO, the Budget Enforcement Act, and the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA).

GAO noted that: (1) in 1996, when GAO last looked at this data, 8 states had biennial legislative cycles and hence necessarily biennial budget cycles; (2) the 42 states with annual legislative cycles present a mixed picture in terms of budget cycles; (3) 27 describe their budget cycles as annual, 12 describe their budget cycles as biennial, and 3 describe their budget cycles as mixed; (4) perhaps significant is the fact that most states that describe their budget cycles as biennial or mixed are small and medium sized; (5) of the 10 largest states in terms of general fund expenditures, Ohio is the only with an annual legislative cycle and a biennial budget; (6) a few preliminary observations can be made from looking at the explicit design of those states which describe their budget cycle as "mixed" and the practice of those which describe their budget cycle as "biennial"; (7) in general, budgeting for those items which are predictable is different than for those items subject to great volatility whether due to the economy or changes in federal policy; (8) existing provisions of law requiring GAO to assist the Congress are sufficiently broad to encompass requests such as those envisioned in Section 8 of S. 261; (9) the bill explicitly modifies the rules for the pay-as-you-go scorecard in the Senate by specifying three time periods during which deficit neutrality is required: (a) the biennium covered by the budget resolution; (b) the first 6 years covered by the budget resolution; and (c) the 4 fiscal years after those first six; (10) S. 261 makes a number of changes to GPRA, most designed to make the requirements of GPRA consistent with the proposed biennial budget cycle, but others which seek to make substantive revisions to GPRA; (11) other changes in timelines proposed in S. 261 also appear consistent with GPRA requirements; (12) S. 261 also proposes several substantive changes to GPRA, including revised requirements for agency performance plans and new requirements for preliminary agency performance plans and governmentwide performance reports; (13) this bill proposes adding several new requirements to the annual agency performance plans currently required by GPRA beyond changing them to a biennial cycle, including: (a) adding an executive summary focusing on the most important goals of an agency, but limited to a maximum of 10 goals; and (b) requiring that the Congress be consulted during the preparation of these plans; and (14) the bill also adds a new reporting requirement for draft performance plans.

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