Budget Object Classification:

Origins and Recent Trends

AIMD-94-147: Published: Sep 13, 1994. Publicly Released: Sep 13, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on budget object classifications, focusing on: (1) their origins, development, and use; (2) present historical trend data; and (3) actual and proposed uses of object class data to reduce federal administrative expenses.

GAO found that: (1) budget object classification defines budget outlays by the personal and contractual services obtained, capital assets acquired, and other charges and payments made by the government; (2) object classes do not give precise information about services or equipment purchases, since an outlay could properly be recorded in any one of several classes; (3) object classification grew out of a voucher-based accounting system in an effort to control executive branch spending; (4) as the federal budget became more complex, object classification gave way to performance-based budgeting and became a supplementary means to provide budget information; (5) during fiscal years 1972 through 1993, object classes mirrored other budget trends such as interest costs and transfer payments which represented an increased share of the budget; (6) in 1993, the Administration and Congress sought to reduce administrative costs by reducing obligations for certain administrative object classes, but the object classes did not distinguish between administrative and program costs; and (7) the object classes targeted for reduction have experienced very low or negative annual growth rates since 1976.

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