Definition of Budget Reprogramming


Budget reprogramming is the allocation of funds to purposes other than those Congress contemplated or knew of during the appropriations process. Reprogramming does not involve new funds; it involves a movement of funds between projects and procurement activities. Federal agencies usually inform congressional committees of reprogramming decisions, which maintains good relationships between the executive and the legislative branches and satisfies congressional notification requirements.


According to Hokkaido University professor Takeshi Fujitani and "Harvard International Review" writer Jared Shirck, the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed that reprogramming does not require statutory authority. There is no law either authorizing or prohibiting reprogramming. Agencies can reprogram funds as part of their general administrative responsibilities. For example, the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) reported in March 2004 that the Transportation Security Administration met the notification thresholds for its 2003 reprogramming exercise, which included the implementation of several new security measures following the September 2001 terrorist attacks.


Reprogramming allows administrative agencies the flexibility to respond to unplanned events, such as changes in operating conditions, incorrect cost estimates, conflicts with subsequent federal or state legislation and changes in economic conditions. Minor reprogramming normally does not require notification or approval. However, congressional committees usually require regular reporting and even approval if the reprogramming exceeds certain financial thresholds.


One of the issues with reprogramming is identifying the source of funds. According to a July 1986 GAO report on reprogramming at the Department of Defense, this identification often creates controversy because reprogramming shifts funds from one program to another. Fujitani and Shirck wrote that, because of several reports since the 1950s on "irregular" reprogramming practices, appropriations committees and government agencies have developed procedures and guidelines. This means, however, that there is no uniform standard or guideline for all federal agencies to follow. Irregular use includes circumventing congressional oversight and moving funds to programs specifically cut by Congress.

Considerations: Reprogramming Versus Transfer

Reprogramming is not the same as transfer, although some use the terms interchangeably. Reprogramming is the movement of funds within appropriation accounts, while a transfer is the movement of funds between accounts. Unlike reprogramming, transfers require statutory authority. Reprogramming is not the same as impoundment, either, because it does not involve the failure of a federal agency to spend appropriated funds.

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