In addition to developing policy, Congress has the power
to “authorize” agencies to enact or carry out policy.
Congress further influences an agency’s ability to implement
policies via annual “appropriations” bills that fund
agencies. These policy decisions can stimulate or stall the implementation
of policy already made.
Through its “authorization power”, Congress exercises
the ultimate control over any government agency. If a policy is
passed by Congress, but not authorized, no funding will be allocated
in appropriations bills to implement the policy. As such, authorization
power is the power of life and death over every government agency.
Policies require initial authorization when first passed, and
many require reauthorization for funding to continue into the
next fiscal budget year. For example, welfare reform and child
care policies are just two policy issues where funding allocations
for various services must be renewed via annual appropriations
The entire authorization process may involve hearings, studies,
and reports to help Congress review and gauge the value of programs
implemented as a result of their policy decision. From an advocate’s
perspective, the key to the process is the authorization statute
(a bill or law), which creates and shapes government programs
and establishes legislative policy for the agency. Usually, authorizations
establish dollar ceilings on the amounts that can be appropriated
for a specific program, and do not guarantee financing for other
programs or agencies.
As an advocate, it’s important to understand that once
a bill is passed, the real work begins. Many bills are passed
by Congress without any intention of funding the measures. This,
combined with the continual need to justify reauthorization, means
family and consumer sciences advocates must remain vigilant to
ensure their concerns are addressed and funded.
The appropriation power of Congress is one of its most important
powers. It stems from the constitutional requirement that “no
money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in consequence of
appropriations made by law.”
Appropriations bills define the specific funding level for each
federal agency as well as for programs and divisions within the
agency. The appropriations committees make “line-item”
budget decisions, while the budget committees make decisions about
broader, functional categories. The budget committees cannot decide
how much money will be available for programs; that is a function
of the appropriations committees. The appropriations committees,
however, must stay within the budget parameters established by
the budget committees.
Each year the appropriations committees send bills to the floor
of the House and Senate concerning how much money they recommend
to fund certain programs. Advocates must communicate each year
to see that the appropriations committees recommend sufficient
funds to support their programs.
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