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In general, Federal budget authorizations follow organizational lines, recognizing administrative units. This would still be true under a program budget, but appropriations would be set up by functions, purposes, or activities and not necessarily by bureaus or divisions. Indeed, departments would be encouraged by the program budget to reorganize bureaus and other subdivisions along work lines. At the same time, congressional and public attention would be centered upon program rather than upon bureaus or other organizational subunits. The program budget represents a distinctive shift in emphasis from present budgeting, and the use of a consistent and informative basis for presenting expenditure estimates.
One of the primary purposes of the program budget would be to improve congressional examination of the budgetary requirements. Such examination should be largely on the level of accomplishment, and for this reason Congress needs clearly to know just what the Executive and the administrative departments and agencies propose to do. Indeed, the first task of the appropriations committees is to review what has been accomplished and what is proposed for the future period, the latter always being examined in the light of past experience. This approach should enable the committees to decide the basic issue each year; namely, just what shall be the magnitude of Federal programs. Such is the idea involved in the so-called “legislative budget," which has so far not succeeded mainly because of the budgetary approach.
The program budget does not change or shift legislative responsibility. It simply gives more comprehensive and reliable information to Congress and helps the individual Congressmen to understand what the Government is doing through its various agencies and how much it is doing. Congress should then be able to make a better decision about both the what and the how much.
In order to introduce the program budget into the Federal Government, the method of approach will have to be worked out in some detail. An effort has been made in this direction by the Navy Department in its alternate budget estimates for the fiscal year 1948, which were printed in the budget document but not considered by the appropriations committees of Congress. While this alternative budget did not go all the way toward a functional program for the department, it was a vast improvement over the customary naval estimates and appropriation titles.
Once the idea of a program budget has been accepted, certain considerations should apply. For each department or agency of the Government there should be an appropriate number of major programs covering the primary tasks performed by it. These programs should not be too narrow or restricted, but those with significant differences should not be consolidated. In every instance, one program should be
for "administration”—all the overhead of the organization unit or subunit. Under a large and complex program the budget estimates should show subprograms, but these should not necessarily appear in the appropriation language. Within each program or subprogram the estimates should be broken down according to character and object classifications, with adequate cost and performance data supplied wherever appropriate.
Revision of the Existing Appropriation Structure Desirable.
The appropriation structure underlying the budget has, for the most part, evolved over a great many years and follows no rational pattern. In some areas of the budget there are entirely too many appropriation items; in others, perhaps too few. Some appropriation items are exceedingly broad in scope; others are ridiculously narrow on account of excessive itemization. In spite of recent simplifications, the language of some appropriation items remain an incredible jungle of detailed provisions. Many of these detailed prescriptions would seem to be susceptible of more or less uniform treatment in codified form.
The appropriation structure is further complicated by several different kinds of authorizations: Direct appropriations, reappropriations, contract authorizations, road authorizations, and appropriations to liquidate contract authorizations. There is no standard basis of measurement by which Congressmen, the press, or the public may readily express the total amount of appropriations carried in any appropriation measure or set of such measures recommended by the President or enacted by Congress. Certainly a comprehensive survey of appropriation practices, looking toward simplification of the appropriation structure, language, and procedure, is long overdue. The revision of these practices should be made along the general lines of the program budget.
Another improvement that is needed to facilitate both budgeting and accounting is the lapsing of all unencumbered balances of annual appropriations not later than 3 or 4 months after the end of the fiscal year to which they relate. At the present time, the outstanding balances of appropriations must be available, under the law, to meet obligations incurred during the fiscal year for a period of 2 years thereafter. This requirement, which keeps the appropriation accounts open for 3 years, greatly increases the difficulties of ascertaining the exact condition of the Treasury at the close of any fiscal year. At the same time, it contributes to incomplete financial reports and consequently to inconclusive information for the preparation of the budget.
Proposals have recently been made not only for revising the appropriation structure but for reducing the dozen regular appropriation bills now annually passed by Congress to one or two consolidated measures. Mr. Marcellus C. Sheild, who ably served the House Appropriations Committee for many years as clerk, has suggested the merging of the present bills into two consolidated appropriation bills. These two measures would comprise one for the armed services and one for the civil functions of the Government. Mr. Shield thinks that national defense and civil requirements should be considered separately by Congress, and he presents very good arguments for doing so. He would remove the appropriations for the District of Columbia from the consolidated civil bill, since they are financed out of the revenues of the city government of Washington with only a comparatively small subsidy from the Federal Government. He would eliminate all geographical allocations in making appropriations, since these tend to induce logrolling. "Two consolidated appropriation bills,” he concludes, “would bring the President into closer operating relationship with Congress in budget making. The present system of a dozen scattered bills sent to him over a period of 4 months gives him poor opportunity to view the budget as a whole as it comes back to him from Congress. It lacks the spirit of comity between coordinate branches of Government." 1
Early in 1947 Senator Byrd of Virginia proposed, by a concurrent resolution amending the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, the adoption of a single consolidated general appropriation bill for the consideration of Congress. He though such a bill was necessary if Congress was to be able to view the whole spending program of the Government at one time. He contended that such a view was impossible under the present practice whereby appropriation legislation is considered at 12 different times, in 12 separate and almost unrelated bills which are brought in over a period up to 6 months. He pointed to the advantages claimed by the governors of a great many states which follow the practice of permitting only single appropriation bills.
1 "Improvement in the Federal Budget Function from the Congressional Viewpoint," a paper presented before the Washington Chapter of the Society for the Advancement of Management, April 22, 1947.
ESTABLISHING EXECUTIVE ACCOUNTABILITY FOR
THE BUDGET AS AUTHORIZED BY CONGRESS
· There are at present two major difficulties in the way of establishing full accountability on the part of the President for the execution of the budget as authorized by Congress. The first of these is the ageold practice of Congress in making appropriations directly to the spending agencies of the Government. This means that the actual obligating and expending of these appropriations can be embarked upon without necessarily having the Executive's consent. The President, therefore, is not in what may be termed a strategic position with reference to expenditure control. He does not have the authority of most executives of parliamentary governments, where the spending agencies must first come to the Executive for a release of appropriations before making any commitments or expenditures. Congress is not wholly to blame for this situation; the bureaucracies of the Government are largely responsible for it. They prefer to have direct appropriations, with all the restrictions normally included, rather than appropriations subject to Executive release and direction in expenditure.
The second difficulty is a more recent one, and results from Congress having vested certain powers relating to current budgetary control in the General Accounting Office, which is completely outside the President's administrative jurisdiction. This Office, by virtue of its authority to settle all claims, is in effect the final arbiter in any disputes that may arise between the President and the spending agencies in matters affecting the expenditure of appropriations. It is fortified in the exercise of this authority by the provision of law which gives it power to prescribe the procedures of administrative accounting in the various spending agencies. Any changes in departmental accounting procedure which the Budget Bureau or the Treasury Department may desire on behalf of the President and in the interest of budgetary control must therefore have the endorsement of the General Accounting Office before it can become effective. In practice, this endorsement has usually been difficult or impossible to obtain.
A Strong Apportionment System Properly Tied Into Accounting
Would Help In spite of the difficulties just mentioned, some efforts have been made to place the President in a position where he can exercise a small measure of budgetary control through the Budget Bureau
and the Treasury Department. To date these efforts have not been very productive, but they nevertheless have some possibilities which are worth exploring.
As early as 1905 Congress got agitated about the fast rate at which the spending agencies of the Government were then using up their appropriations each year and coming back the next year for deficiencies. The result was the passage of the Antideficiency Act, which provided that the spending agencies must apportion their appropriations on a monthly or other basis to stretch them over the fiscal year, and imposing penalties if the agencies still incurred deficiencies. But the spending agencies appear to have paid little attention to the provisions of the act, and the prescribed penalties were never applied.
When the Budget Bureau was established in 1921, the Director called attention to the provisions of the Antideficiency Act, but the spending agencies were again not impressed. It was not until 1933 that the Budget Director was authorized by an Executive order to take part in the apportioning of appropriations. This order provided that budgetary accounts relating to the apportionment and obligation of appropriations would be maintained on the books of the Treasury, and that the accounting offices of the spending agencies would furnish the Treasury with the necessary reports to set up this information on the books and to keep it current. The Treasury was then required to furnish the Budget Bureau with reports on the obligation status of all apportionments and appropriations.
However, both the apportioning and the obligating of appropriations continued to be controlled and reported by the spending agencies. And so things ran along until 1940, when Executive Order No. 8512, with amendments, supplemented by Budget-Treasury Regulation No. 1, revised, set up the present system of apportionments. This system requires the spending agencies to submit requests for quarterly apportionments of their appropriations to the Budget Bureau for its approval. Any revisions in the original apportionments require supplementary forms to be submitted to the Bureau for approval. A copy of the apportionments and any revisions goes to the Treasury for its information. Each month the spending agencies are required to report on the status of their appropriations, including obligations and balances. These reports on the status of appropriations may mean something or they may not, depending entirely upon what the spending agencies may choose to put in them. This is the most glaring weakness of the present system. Although the Budget Bureau has authority on behalf of the President to approve all allocations, the spending agencies are nevertheless left to record and report the obligations, and neither the Budget Bureau nor the Treasury seem to have any direct check upon what they report.