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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Federal Funding Gaps: A Brief Overview

Jessica Tollestrup
Analyst on Congress and the Legislative Process

The Antideficiency Act (31 U.S.C. 1341-1342, 1511-1519) generally bars the obligation of funds in the absence of appropriations. Exceptions are made under the act, including for activities involving “the safety of human life or the protection of property.” The interval during the fiscal year when appropriations for a particular project or activity are not enacted into law, either in the form of a regular appropriations act or a continuing resolution (CR), is referred to as a funding gap. Although funding gaps may occur at the start of the fiscal year, they also may occur any time a CR expires and another CR (or the regular appropriations bill) is not enacted immediately thereafter. Multiple funding gaps may occur within a fiscal year.

When a funding gap occurs, federal agencies are generally required to begin a shutdown of the affected projects and activities, which includes the prompt furlough of non-excepted personnel. The general practice of the federal government after the shutdown has ended has been to retroactively pay furloughed employees for the time they missed, as well as employees who were required to come to work.

Although a shutdown may be the result of a funding gap, the two events should be distinguished. This is because a funding gap may result in a total shutdown of all affected projects or activities in some instances, but not others. For example, when funding gaps are of a short duration, agencies may not have enough time to complete a shutdown of affected projects and activities before funding is restored. In addition, the Office of Management and Budget has previously indicated that a shutdown of agency operations within the first day of the funding gap may be postponed if a resolution appears to be imminent.

Since FY1977, 18 funding gaps occurred, ranging in duration from one day to 21 full days. These funding gaps are listed in Table 1. About half of these funding gaps were brief (i.e., three days or less in duration). Notably, many of the funding gaps that occurred during this period do not appear to have resulted in a “shutdown.” Prior to the issuance of the opinions in1980 and early 1981 by then-Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti, while agencies tended to curtail some operations in response to a funding gap, they often “continued to operate during periods of expired funding.” In addition, some of the funding gaps after the Civiletti opinions did not result in a completion of shutdown operations, due to both the funding gap’s short duration and an expectation that appropriations would soon be enacted. Some of the funding gaps during this period, however, did have a broader impact on affected government operations, even if only for a matter of hours.

Two of the three most recent funding gaps occurred in FY1996, which amounted to five days and 21 days. The chronology of regular and continuing appropriations enacted during FY1996 is illustrated in Figure 1.

The most recent funding gap commenced at the beginning of FY2014, on October 1, 2013, and concluded on October 17, 2013, for a total of 16 days. For CRS resources related to the FY2014 funding gap, see CRS Report R43250, InBrief: CRS Resources on the FY2014 Funding Gap, Shutdown, and Status ofAppropriations, by Justin Murray.

For a general discussion of federal government shutdowns, see CRS Report RL34680, Shutdown of the Federal Government: Causes, Processes, andEffects, coordinated by Clinton T. Brass.

Date of Report: October 29, 2013
Number of Pages: 12
Order Number: RS20348
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