Broken Process: Authorizers Rely on Appropriators For Oversight

In yet another sign that the legislative process needs serious fixing, Congress last year appropriated $290.8 billion for programs that the House and Senate failed to reauthorize, the Congressional Budget Office says in a report released this month. Although House and Senate rules generally prohibit Congress from funding unauthorized programs, the rules are often waived, CBO said in its annual report, "Unauthorized Appropriations and Expiring Appropriations." The total does not include programs that never have been authorized or programs whose authorizations are indefinite.

Congress routinely fails to reauthorize many programs, instead, relying on appropriators to essentially reauthorize them by funding them. The reauthorization process is designed to allow committees specializing in particular areas the opportunity to evaluate programs under their jurisdiction. If authorizers fail to do their work, it is left to appropriators to determine if funding should continue.

And the list includes some large programs. For instance, the National Institutes for Health received $31 billion in Fiscal 2010; authorizers have not reviewed and renewed the legislation creating the institutes since the 109th Congress--2005 and 2006. The United States Agency for International Development received $18.9 billion, even though it has not been reauthorized since the 99th Congress--1985-86.

Congress has a lot of work to do before leaving for the year. Programs totaling some $733 billion are set to expire by Sept. 30--the end of the fiscal year. Most of those funds come from the annual defense authorization bill.

Authorizers should be key players in the effort to find savings in federal programs. They should be resources as Congress attempts to cut spending. But their failure to reauthorize the programs will make that process more difficult. Clearly, it is yet another signal that the process is broken