Impoundments (

From the Congressional Glossary – Including Legislative and Budget Terms


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Any action taken by the executive branch that delays or precludes the obligation or expenditure of budget authority appropriated by Congress. The Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974 was enacted after frequent use of impoundments by President Richard Nixon. In addition to creating the budget process currently used, the 1974 law established procedures for congressional approval or disapproval of temporary or permanent impoundments, which are called deferrals and proposed rescissions. Not all delays in obligating funds are deferrals. Sometimes obligation delays are due to legitimate programmatic reasons or the result of outside forces not under the agency’s control; for example, an agency administering a grant program receives no grant applications so no grants can be made.

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The comptroller general, head of the Government Accountability Office (GAO), reviews all proposed rescissions and deferrals and advises Congress of their legality and possible budgetary and program effects. The comptroller general also notifies Congress of any rescission or deferral not reported by the president. The comptroller general may also reclassify an improperly classified impoundment. In all cases, a notification to Congress by the comptroller general has the same legal effect as an impoundment message of the president. The president’s impoundment messages, as well as the comptroller general’s reports, are printed as House documents (H. Doc. ___). The GAO also issues its reports separately.

Also see


Hon. James Lankford: Senate Rules, Budget, and Appropriations Reform [Restoring Article I]


There are two types of impoundments:

  • Rescission means enacted legislation that reduces budget authority previously provided by law, prior to the time when the authority would otherwise expire. See section 112.18 for detailed instructions on rescission proposals by the President.
  • Deferral means any Executive action or inaction that temporarily withholds or effectively precludes the obligation or expenditure of budgetary resources with the intent of using the funds before they expire. Deferrals are permitted only to provide for contingencies, to achieve savings made possible by or through changes in requirements or greater efficiency of operations, or as specially provided by law. Deferrals are generally effected through the apportionment process.
    See section 112.4 for instructions on reports to the Congress.
  • Rescission proposals and deferrals are subject to the requirements of Title X of the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act, which require the President to transmit a special message to the Congress (see section 20.4(i)).

From OMB Circular A-11, Section 112—Deferrals and Presidential Proposals to Rescind or Cancel Funds (21-page PDFPDF)






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