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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Continuing Resolutions: Overview of Components and Recent Practices

Jessica Tollestrup
Analyst on Congress and the Legislative Process

Congress uses an annual appropriations process to fund the routine activities of most federal agencies. This process anticipates the completion of 12 regular appropriations bills to fund these activities before the beginning of the fiscal year. Over the past half century, the timing of congressional action on regular appropriations bills has varied considerably, but enactment after the start of the fiscal year has been a recurring issue. Until regular appropriations for a fiscal year are enacted, one or more continuing appropriations acts (commonly known as a continuing resolution or CR) can be used to provide funding for a specified period of time.

Under recent congressional practice, continuing resolutions typically include as many as six main components. First, CRs provide funding for certain activities, which are typically specified with reference to the prior fiscal year’s appropriations acts. This is referred to in this report as the CR’s coverage. Second, CRs provide budget authority for a specified duration of time. This duration may be as short as a single day, or as long as the remainder of the fiscal year. Third, CRs typically provide funds based on an overall funding rate. Fourth, the use of budget authority provided in the CR is typically prohibited for new activities not funded in the previous fiscal year. Fifth, the duration and amount of funds in the CR, and purposes for which they may be used for specified activities, may be adjusted through anomalies. Sixth, legislative provisions, which create, amend, or extend other laws, have been included in some instances.

Between FY1977 and FY2013, excluding the four fiscal years that all appropriations were enacted on time, over half of the regular appropriations bills for a fiscal year were enacted on time in only one instance (FY1978). In all other fiscal years, fewer than six regular appropriations acts were enacted on or before October 1. In addition, in 12 out of the 37 years during this period, none of these regular appropriations bills were enacted prior to the start of the fiscal year. Six of these fiscal years have occurred in the interval since FY2001. For further information, see Table 1.

In the interval since FY1997, the most recent fiscal year that all regular appropriations bills were completed on time, continuing resolutions have been enacted on average about six times per fiscal year. During this period, CRs provided funding for an average of almost five months each fiscal year. For further information, see Table 2 and Figure 1.

Congress has employed full-year continuing resolutions on a number of occasions. For each of the 11 fiscal years covering FY1978-FY1988, Congress enacted a full-year CR covering at least one regular appropriations act. Three years later, Congress enacted another full-year CR, for FY1992. Most recently, full-year CRs were enacted for FY2007, FY2011, and FY2013. The budget authority in these full-year CRs was also provided in different forms. The ten full-year CRs for FY1980 through FY1984, FY1992, FY2007, FY2011, and FY2013 included formulaic provisions that provided funding for at least one of the covered appropriations acts. The full-year CRs for FY1985 through FY1988, by contrast, did not use formulaic provisions but instead specified amounts for each account. For further information, see Table 3.

For a list of all continuing resolutions enacted since FY1977, see Table 4 at the end of this report.

This report will be updated after the annual appropriations process for a fiscal year has concluded.

Date of Report: April 23, 2013
Number of Pages: 33
Order Number: R42647
Price: $29.95

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