Funding Gaps Jeopardize Federal Government Operations

PAD-81-31: Published: Mar 3, 1981. Publicly Released: Mar 3, 1981.

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James L. Kirkman
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Interruptions in federal agency funding at the beginning of the fiscal year (FY) and operations on continuing resolutions have become the norm rather than the exception. During the normal deliberations process on appropriations for FY 1981, it became clear that a funding gap might develop. In response to the President's request for an opinion on the Antideficiency Act, the Attorney General ruled that the act required agencies to terminate all operations when their current appropriations expired. In addition, the Attorney General stated that the Department of Justice would strictly enforce the criminal provisions of the act in cases of future willful violations.

Agencies were uncertain how to respond to the Attorney General's opinion and what activities they would be able to continue if appropriations expired. In addition, guidance from Justice and the Office of Management and Budget was inconsistent, and neither provided clear instructions for agencies to follow. There are many approaches to the problem of funding gaps, including: (1) permanent legislation authorizing agencies to incur obligations, but not expend funds, for continued operations during periods of expired appropriations; (2) amendments to the act to allow agencies to incur obligations for continued operations when appropriations expire; (3) amendments to the rules of both houses to require all appropriations acts to include language conferring authority to continue to incur, but not liquidate, obligations at the level authorized until superseded by another funding measure; (4) that limitation and legislative riders on appropriations bills and continuing resolutions could be forbidden or made to require a two-thirds vote for passage; or (5) continuation of the pay of federal civilian and military employees in periods of expired appropriations.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Congress still has not passed a 2-year appropriation. Since this report is 7 years old, this case should be closed.

    Matter: Congress should consider shifting more programs to authorization and appropriations cycles of 2 or more years.

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress asked for an additional study of the means of addressing the problem that differ from this recommendation. Basically, Congress rejected this recommendation and is assessing other means of dealing with the problem, such as a permanent continuing resolution and changes in the 1974 Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act.

    Matter: Congress should consider establishing and adhering to a reserve for fall and spring adjustments for emergencies and uncontrollable cost growth.

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Senator Ford introduced S. 286 on January 12, 1987. GAO is not commenting on the bill at this time.

    Matter: Congress should enact permanent legislation to allow all agencies to incur obligations, but not expend funds, when appropriations expire, except where program authorization has expired or Congress has expressly stated that a program should be suspended during a funding hiatus pending further legislative action.


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