Unfunded Mandates:

Analysis of Reform Act Coverage

GAO-04-637: Published: May 12, 2004. Publicly Released: May 21, 2004.

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The Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995 (UMRA) was enacted to address concerns about federal statutes and rules that require state, local, and tribal governments or the private sector to expend resources to achieve legislative goals. UMRA generates information about the nature and size of potential federal mandates to assist Congress and agency decision makers in their consideration of proposed legislation and rules. However, concerns about actual or perceived federal mandates continue. To provide information and analysis regarding UMRA's implementation, GAO was asked to (1) describe the applicable procedures, definitions, and exclusions under UMRA for identifying federal mandates in statutes and rules, (2) identify statutes and final rules that contained federal mandates under UMRA, and (3) provide examples of statutes and final rules that were not identified as federal mandates, but that affected parties might perceive as "unfunded mandates," and the reasons these statutes and rules were not federal mandates under UMRA. GAO focused on statutes enacted and final rules issued in 2001 and 2002 to address the second and third objectives.

UMRA generally requires congressional committees and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to identify and estimate the costs of federal mandates contained in proposed legislation and federal agencies to do so for federal mandates contained in their rules. Identification of mandates is a complex process with multiple definitions, exclusions, and cost thresholds. Also, some legislation and rules may be enacted or issued via procedures that do not trigger UMRA reviews. In 2001 and 2002, 5 of 377 statutes enacted and 9 of 122 major or economically significant final rules issued were identified as containing federal mandates at or above UMRA's thresholds. Of the other federal actions in those 2 years, at least 43 statutes and 65 rules contained new requirements on nonfederal parties that might be perceived as "unfunded mandates." For 24 of those statutes and 26 of those rules, CBO or federal agencies had determined that the estimated direct costs or expenditures would not meet or exceed applicable thresholds. For the remaining examples of statues, most often UMRA did not require a CBO review prior to their enactment. The remaining rules most often did not trigger UMRA because they were issued by independent regulatory agencies. Despite the determinations made under UMRA, some statutes and rules not triggering UMRA's thresholds appeared to have potential financial impacts on affected nonfederal parties similar to those of the actions that were identified as containing mandates at or above the act's thresholds.

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