Budget and Appropriations

Budgets and Appropriations - Federal


Federal Budget Process
Researching Budgets and Appropriations
Further Reading



Under the U.S. Constitution, "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."

The Budget of the United States is the President’s proposed spending levels for the next fiscal year. 

Appropriation Bills are Congress’ response to the President’s proposal.  The President submits to Congress a budget for the upcoming fiscal year, and Congress after committee hearings and debate generates a series of appropriation bills to allocate funding to the various government agencies and programs.  The President must approve these bills in order to fund the Federal Government for the fiscal year. 

In the United States, funding the federal government begins with the president’s budget and ends with signed appropriation bills. The budgeting process for the most part begins and ends with the Executive branch.

The entire process is somewhat convoluted. 


Federal Budget Process

The basic process goes through the following steps.  The Executive Branch develops a proposed budget that it submits to the Legislative Branch which in turn draws up the appropriation bills to fund the government for the next fiscal cycle.   The Executive Branch in turn then either signs the appropriation bill and funds that portion of the government or rejects it returning it the Legislature for further consideration.  This cycle continues until the government is fully funded.  If no agreement is reached by the end of the fiscal year, the Legislature must enact temporary funding measures or risk government shutdown.

While the Constitution grants Congress the power to fund the Federal Government and its programs from the revenues collected, it did not specify the exact budgeting process Congress is to follow.  Over time the following process has evolved. 

Step 1:  Budget Requests
The Office of Budget and Management (OBM) provides guidelines to federal agencies for developing their budget requests for the coming fiscal year.  The OBM reviews the agencies' funding requests and after feedback from the agencies creates a draft of the budget.

Step 2:  Final Budget
The OBM sends to the President the final budget, which includes information on the condition of the Treasury for the last completed fiscal year and the estimated condition at the end of the current fiscal year.  The budget also may include other budgetary publications that have been issued during the fiscal year, and other related and supporting documents pertaining to the budget.

Step 3:  Submits Budget
In February, the President submits his budget to Congress.  The President’s Budget is just a proposal detailing how he would like to divvy up federal revenue for the next fiscal year.  The Federal fiscal year runs October through September.

Step 4:  Create and Pass Budget Resolutions
The House and Senate Committees on the Budget take the President’s Budget and create budget resolutions.  These resolutions set spending levels for federal agencies, etc.  After each passes their versions of the budget resolutions, a joint committee irons out any differences between the two versions and the revised budget resolution is sent to Congress to be voted on.

Step 5:  Create Appropriations Bills
Working within the spending limits set in the budget resolutions, the House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees determine the precise level of funding for the coming fiscal year.  The resulting bill is voted and passed in the subcommittee, then the full Appropriations Committee, and then to full House or Senate to be voted on.

Step 6:  Vote on Appropriations Bills
The full House and Senate vote on their own appropriations bills from their respective Appropriations Committee.  After passing their versions, if there are any differences, a conference committee is appointed to iron them out and the revised bill is sent back to the House and Senate to be voted on.  If passed, it is sent to the President.

Step 7:  Signs Each Appropriations Bill and the Budget Becomes Law
Only after the President signs the Appropriations Bill does it become law.  When all the Appropriations Bills are signed, the budgeting process for the year is complete, and the federal government is funded for the next fiscal year.

Steps 4 through 7 are reiterative, as Congress and the President work out their differing spending goals with the end result of a fully funded government.  If no agreement can be reached by the end of the federal fiscal year in October, Congress must pass temporary funding measures until an agreement can be reached or risk the shutdown of the Federal Government.  In recent years relations between the executive branch and the legislative branches have become increasingly adversarial, and the federal government has shut down while the budgeting differences were worked out. 

The federal government unlike many others can and does run a deficit budget.  The U.S. Government can spend more than it earns in the form of taxes, etc., and has for some time.  


Researching Budgets and Appropriations

Researching federal funding is a matter of locating the appropriate documents, reports, bills, newspaper articles, etc. -- many of which are available online.

Use the following to help locate Federal budget and/or appropriations information:

Appropriations Status Table. (Library of Congress. Congress.gov)  Provides information on appropriation legislation and the budget process from 1999 to the present.

Budget of the United States Government. (govinfo)  Links to the Budget of the United States from 1996 to the present.

Congressional Reports. (govinfo)  Links to congressional reports from 1821-1824, 1831-1842, 1847-1864, and 1995 to the present.

HatiTrust Digital Library. (HatiTrust)  {Restricted Use}  Digital repository of books, reports, documents, etc. including budgets. 

Congressional Reports, 104th Congress to Present. (Government Publishing Office)  Help in searching Congressional Reports. 

Public Policy Hot Topics [D-F]: Federal Budget and Spending. (Vanderbilt University. Jean and Alexander Heard Library)  Annotated list of resource on the topic with links developed by the Government Information staff at Vanderbilt University. 

OSU Library Catalog - Books and More.  (The Ohio State University.  University Libraries)  Search the catalog for both tangible and e-documents titles.  It is possible search using Government Document (SuDoc) numbers, Library of Congress (LC) call numbers, title, keyword, or author.

Research Database List -Databases Arranged by Subject:  Newspapers and Periodicals. (The Ohio State University. University Libraries ) List of newspaper and periodical indices. 

Spending Explorer. (USASPENDING)  A subset of the US Treasury Department's USAspending.gov website allows searching on Federal Government spending on the agency level, object classes and by budget function.

U.S. Congressional Serial Set. (govinfo)  Indices to Congressional Documents and Reports from 1957-2016.

Welcome to the Federal Depository Library Directory (FDLD). (Government Publishing Office)  Finding aid for Federal Depository Libraries who are repositories of government publications such as budgets, etc.  Holdings vary from depository to depository.



Federal Budget. (YouTube) Links to various short clips on the topic.

How Congress Works:  The Budget Process. (Bing.com)  Links to various short clips from YouTube, C-SPAN, etc.


Further Reading

America's Finance Guide. (United States Department of Treasury)  Links to graphics, etc. on the topics of federal revenue, spending, deficit, and debt.

A Brief Overview of the Congressional Budget Process.  James V. Saturno.  Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, July 29, 2020.  Overview and brief history of the federal budget process including information on the budget cycle.

Budget Concepts and Budget Process.”  Executive Office of the President of the United States, Office of Management and Budget.  Analytical Perspectives:  Budget of the U.S. Government.  D.C.:  U.S. Government Printing Office, 2013, p. 115-139.  Although some of the information contained is somewhat dated it gives a good overview the budget process, etc.

Budget Process: Federal Budget 101. (National Priorities Project)  Brief overview of how the process should work verses how it actually works with a bibliography which can provide addition sources for further reading.

The Budget Process:  Home. (Columbia University Libraries)  LibGuide developed by the library to help explain the budget process, give background, highlight resources, etc.

Capital Budgeting.  Jeffrey Holland and David Torregrosa.  Washington, D.C.:  Congressional Budget Office, May 2008.  Examines the advantages and disadvantages of implementing a capital budget on the federal level.

A Citizen’s Guide to the Federal Budget. (FRASER)  PDFs of editions from 1996 through 2002.  Covers the basics of what is a federal budget, federal revenues and spending, the president's budget, etc.

The Congressional Appropriations Process:  An Introduction James V. Saturno, Bill Heniff Jr., and Megan S. Lynch.  Washington, D.C.:  Congressional Research Service, November 30, 2016.  Examines the various components of the Congressional budgeting.

The Congressional Budget Process:  A Brief Overview.  James V. Saturno.  Washington, D.C.:  Congressional Research Service, August 22, 2011.  Concise overview of the budget process. 

The Executive Budget Process Timetable.  Michelle D. Christensen.  Washington, D.C.:  Congressional Research Service, December 5, 2012.  Explores the budget process from the point of view of the Executive Office.

The Federal Budget Process 101. (The American Association for the Advancement of Science - AAAS, Matt Hourihan)   Overview of the process includes links to a short video. 

Introduction to the Federal Budget Process.  James V. Saturno.  Washington, D.C.:  Congressional Research Service, February 26, 2020.  Examines the budget process from start to finish. 

Party Control and Budget Estimates:  A Study of Politics in the Federal Budget Process.”  Lara Palanjian.  Berkeley Undergraduate Journal.  2008: volume 20 issue 2. (University of California. eScholarship)   Impact of political ideology on budget estimates produced as part of the budget process. 

Policy Basics:  Introduction to the Federal Budget Process. (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities)   Background on how Congress goes about allocating funds to run the Federal Government.

Public Budgeting in Context.  Katherine Willoughby.  San Francisco, California:  Jossey-Bass, 2014.  Examines the public budgeting process, budgeting policies, legal framework on the federal, state and local levels as well as several foreign counties.  [Access restricted]

The Tax Poly Center’s Briefing Book – Chapter 2:  Some Background – Federal Budget.  (Tax Policy Center)  General information on revenue streams, etc. for the Federal Government.

Understanding Government Budgets:  A Practical Guide.  R. Mark Musell.  2nd Edition.  Milton Park, England; New York, New York :  Routledge, 2020.   Explanation of various types budgets employed by federal, state and local governments and the information contained in each.

U.S. Budget and Government Spending: Introduction to U.S. Budget Process. (University of California. Berkeley Library)  LibGuide to resources on the topic of the U.S. budget and federal spending with links to outside resources such as the Congressional Budget Office, Office of Management and Budget, and the U.S. Senate.