Budget Account Structure

A Descriptive Overview Gao ID: AIMD-95-179 September 18, 1995

This report provides an overview of the federal budget account structure. The need to better understand the budget account structure is prompted by recent congressional action, such as the Government Performance and Results Act, and executive branch initiatives, such as the National Performance Review, which call for or suggest cross-cutting changes to budget accounts. This report examines the following eight dimensions to define and explain budget accounts: How many accounts exist? What level of resources is available in an account? What is the main focus of an account as created by Congress? What type of budget authority is available to an account? What is the extent of resource restriction or earmarking within an account? What are the purposes or areas of national need addressed by an account? What federal entity is responsible for an account? The first section of this report describes the budget account structure in terms of these eight dimensions. The second section constructs profiles and discusses relationships among the dimensions.

GAO found that: (1) federal budget accounts are a product of the needs and goals of many users and address many different roles; (2) the present budget account structure was not created as a single integrated framework, but was mainly developed as separate budget accounts to respond to specific needs; (3) the budget account structure is characterized by a concentration of budgetary resources in a few large accounts and a scattering of remaining resources among hundreds of other accounts, and a mix of account orientations with an emphasis on programs and processes, rather than objects of expense or organizations; (4) over 70 percent of the total budgetary resources available in fiscal year 1995 came from sources which did not require congressional approval in the current year; and (5) general funds are used to provide budgetary resources to most accounts, with special and trust funds supporting about 30 percent of total resources and 20 percent of all accounts.

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