From the Congressional Glossary – Including Legislative and Budget Terms
Authorization / Authorization Act
Authorization – Provision in law that establishes or continues a program or agency and authorizes appropriations for it.
Basic, substantive legislation that establishes or continues the legal operation of a federal program or agency, either indefinitely or for a specific period of time, or which sanctions a particular type of obligation or expenditure. An authorization normally is a prerequisite for an appropriation or other kind of budget authority. Under the rules of both houses, the appropriation for a program or agency may not be considered until its authorization has been considered. An authorization also may limit the amount of budget authority to be provided or may authorize the appropriation of “such sums as may be necessary.”
An Authorization Act is a law that (1) establishes a program or agency and the terms and conditions under which it operates, and (2) authorizes the enactment of appropriations for that program or agency. Authorizing legislation, which is used to make authorization law, is one type of legislation that Congress commonly considers. Authorizing legislation may originate in either the House or the Senate, and may be considered at any time during the year. It can prescribe what an agency must do — or proscribe what it may not do — in the performance of its assigned responsibilities. It can give the agency a broad grant of authority and discretion, or define parameters, decision-making, and decisions in great detail.
Unless an authorization measure contains direct spending, which itself enables an agency to enter into obligations, authorizing legislation does not have budgetary impact. It authorizes discretionary spending, for which funding is provided subsequently in annual appropriations acts.
House rules do not expressly require authorizations. Instead, they bar unauthorized appropriations. The House may waive the rule against unauthorized appropriations by adopting a special rule before taking up an appropriations bill. The House rule barring unauthorized appropriations applies only against general appropriations measures. Under House precedents, a continuing appropriations measure is not considered to be a general appropriations bill, and it may thus fund unauthorized programs.
Senate rules also bar unauthorized appropriations, although many exceptions are allowed. Accordingly, the House rule is stricter than the Senate rule. House rules also prohibit the inclusion of appropriations in authorizing legislation. Senate rules do not contain this prohibition.
Communications and Technology Hearing on Oversight and Reauthorization of the FCC (7/25/2017)
An authorization is presumed to be permanent unless the authorizing law limits its duration. Permanent authorizations rarely specify amounts of money. Temporary authorizations usually do.
As a general matter, appropriations enacted into law when the authorizing measure has not been enacted may be spent by the agency. The agency also may spend appropriated amounts that exceed authorized levels.
An authorization of appropriations in a specific amount is intended to serve as a guideline or limit for the Appropriations Committees in drafting appropriations measures and for Congress in approving them. However, one regularly finds large differences between enacted authorized and appropriated amounts. A member or group of members advocating “full funding” of a program is often in favor of an appropriation matching an authorization. Moreover, Congress does not need to make an appropriation for an authorization in law if it chooses not to fund an activity.
The vehicle for policy decisions on a program of aid to state and local governments is normally an authorization bill.
From Congressional Procedure, Ch. 7.A.:
The budget is like a personal budget—your plan for how much money you expect to be earning, how much money you will spend and how you will spend it.
Authorizations may be thought of as decisions you might make that impact your budget, such as signing an apartment lease, buying an automobile, purchasing a home, or even having a child.
Appropriations are like payments you actually make under your budget, like paying the rent, utility bills, or buying groceries. You might have budgeted $300 for groceries, but ended up spending $350. Your appropriation is $350.
If you spend more than you bring in, you must borrow the difference. If you spend less, you have a surplus and may be able to invest it or save for a child’s education.
- Appropriations (CongressionalGlossary.com)
- Appropriation Act / Appropriation Bill (CongressionalGlossary.com)
- Backdoor Spending (CongressionalGlossary.com)
- Budget Authority (CongressionalGlossary.com)
- Regular Appropriations / Supplemental Appropriations / Continuing Resolutions (CongressionalGlossary.com)
- § 7.80 Authorizations and Appropriations Processes, § 8.20 Congress and the Executive: Legislation, § 8.160 Congress and Foreign Policy: Legislation, Appropriations, and Nominations, § 8.200 Congress and Federalism: Financial Support for State and Local Governments, § 8.201 Unfunded Mandates and Congressional Procedures, in Congressional Deskbook
- Chapter 7.A. Introduction, and Chapter 7.G. Authorizations in Congressional Procedure
NASA Acting Administrator Statement on the NASA Authorization Act of 2017
- House of Representatives Committee On Appropriations
- Senate Committee on Appropriations
- “Overview of the Authorization-Appropriations Process,” CRS Report RS20371 (5-page PDF)
- “Authorizations and the Appropriations Process,” CRS Report R46497 (17-page PDF)
- “Authorization of Appropriations: Procedural and Legal Issues,” CRS Report R42098 (18-page PDF)
- “Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act,” CRS Report R45013 (52-page PDF)
- “Advance Appropriations, Forward Funding, and Advance Funding,” CRS Report R43482 (34-page PDF)
- “Defense Authorization and Appropriations Bills: FY1961-FY2021,” CRS Report 98-756 (50-page PDF)
- “Budget Process and Enforcement,” Parliamentary Boot Camp (4-page PDF)
- “Mandatory Spending Since 1962,” CRS Report RL33074 (23-page PDF)
- “Changes in the Purposes and Frequency of Authorizations of Appropriations,” CRS Report R43862 (27-page PDF)
- Congressional Operations Briefing – Capitol Hill Workshop
- Drafting Federal Legislation and Amendments
- Writing for Government and Business: Critical Thinking and Writing
- Custom Training
- Congressional Operations Poster, with Federal Budget Process Flowchart
- Federal Budgeting, a Five-Course series on CD
- Congress, the Legislative Process, and the Fundamentals of Lawmaking Series, a Nine-Course series on CD
The Federal Budget Process 2E
Citizen’s Handbook to Influencing Elected Officials: A Guide for Citizen Lobbyists and Grassroots Advocates
CongressionalGlossary.com, from TheCapitol.Net
For more than 40 years, TheCapitol.Net and its predecessor, Congressional Quarterly Executive Conferences, have been teaching professionals from government, military, business, and NGOs about the dynamics and operations of the legislative and executive branches and how to work with them.
Our custom on-site and online training, publications, and audio courses include congressional operations, legislative and budget process, communication and advocacy, media and public relations, testifying before Congress, research skills, legislative drafting, critical thinking and writing, and more.
TheCapitol.Net is on the GSA Schedule, MAS, for custom on-site and online training. GSA Contract GS02F0192X
TheCapitol.Net is a non-partisan small business.
Teaching how Washington and Congress work ™