Effectiveness of the Federal Apportionment Process and Implications for Budget Execution

PAD-80-5: Published: Nov 21, 1979. Publicly Released: Dec 21, 1979.

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During a study of the effectiveness of the apportionment process, GAO interviewed budget officials of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The Antideficiency Act controls the apportionment process, and the following objectives of the Act were addressed: (1) the effective control over the use of appropriations so as to prevent the incurring of obligations at a rate which would lead to deficiency, or supplemental, appropriations; and (2) the most effective and economical use of budgetary resources. To help accomplish these objectives, reserves may be established by the apportioning officer. The funds may be reserved for contingencies and to show program savings resulting from changes in scope or greater operating efficiency.

There are fewer deficiency appropriations now than in the past, and there is a low priority on using the apportionment process to ensure the effective and economical use of funds. The apportionment process is a good management tool, but it is not being fully used to monitor budget execution. The mechanics of the apportionment system seem adequate, but the degree in which guidelines are followed and available data used at OMB is left to the discretion of the individual budget examiners. The examiners emphasize the future, but have little time to monitor past and present performance. Little use is made of historical program performance or obligation trend data in establishing the apportionment periods or amounts. In contrast to the lack of emphasis on monitoring obligations is the emphasis on monitoring outlays; having failed to take the opportunity to monitor and control obligations, however, little improvement in effective budget execution is gained by monitoring spending. Changes in the past few years in the executive and congressional budget processes have contributed to a deemphasis on effectively apportioning funds and monitoring budget execution. GAO believes that it is not necessary to amend the Antideficiency Act; it is only necessary to give it renewed prominence and priority.

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