After final decisions are received from the President and OMB, the agency goes on to make its case to Congress. The agency has to make the case that the President wants the agency to make, not necessarily what the agency or its leadership or rank and file would like. The rules are usually followed and the agency leadership and management supports the request as decided by the President.
The overall Federal budget request is submitted in a set of formal, widely available documents and a supplemental request for each agency. This agency request is presented in documents whose format is specified by the appropriations committees. (See DOCUMENTS for more.) This budget submission is the agency's "annual plan" under GPRA. Some agencies have one document that is the "annual plan." Others have separate documents for the performance plan and the budget request.
Congress must approve all expenditures of Federal funds. The Constitution states: No money shall be drawn from the treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law; and a regular statement and account of receipts and expenditures of all public money shall be published from time to time. (U.S. Constitution, Article 1, Section 9.) Congress has implemented this requirement through statutory requirements and through procedural requirements. (See DOCUMENTS for the relevant statutes.)
Congress requires that sufficient information be provided so that it can intelligently assess the President's request as well as each specific agency plan for using the funds requested in the President's overall budget.
The specific processes used to approve the level of funds for each agency is not spelled out in the Constitution, but in other laws, precedents, and practices. Congress has established the appropriations committees to review the requests for funds and to make recommendations to Congress. The committees do this as they see fit, efficient, and in keeping with good legal and business practices.
Preparing documents that explain and justify the budget request is an essential step in the process. The first public statement of the agency's budget request takes place when the President's budget request is sent to Congress. The agency's request is a document that supplements and amplifies the President's request, mostly to explain to members and staff of the appropriations committees the details of the agency's request.
The agency has a central budget staff to assure submission of the request and to maintain discipline, at least as far as documents submitted are concerned. All papers pass through their hands on their way to OMB for review before they are allowed to be sent to Congress. Many people are involved in making sure that nothing is presented to Congress that was not intended by the President.
The request to Congress consists of materials that explain in detail what will be accomplished with the requested resources. The explanation also has information on past accomplishments since the Congressional process places an emphasis on changes from the prior year. For efficiency, Congress focuses on the increases and decreases from the prior year, and tends to assume that what does not change is acceptable.
At the time of the release of the request to Congress, there is an associated press conference and a release to the public of summary documents of the agency's request. This is part of the Administration's attempt to sell its budget before those opposed to it have a chance to review it.
A large effort is required to prepare the documents since they must be accurate and must be based on decisions made in relation to each program. The agency and its operating components must be able to explain in detail how the requested resources will be used, as well as provide additional detailed information if requested by the Appropriations committees themselves or auditors who may be checking the facts that support the request.
The agency's request to the Appropriations Committee is submitted concurrently with the overall Federal budget request, usually in the first Monday in February.
Documents and Links
The documents related to the request to Congress are public documents, available to all. Copies can be obtained from the agencies, the Appropriations Committees, some from the GPO, and some from agency web sites. The primary documents of the budget request are:
- The set of documents that make up the overall President's request, covering the whole of the Federal government (submitted and made available when the request is sent to Congress, no later than February 7, 2000 for FY 2001), and
- Each agency's public information and supplemental submissions to Appropriations sub-committees.
Go to DOCUMENTS for a more detailed explanation of the documents involved.