Report to Congress on Defense Spending Under Continuing Resolution

August 16, 2019 9:57 AM

The following is the Aug. 15, 2019 Congressional Research Service report, Defense Spending Under an Interim Continuing Resolution: In Brief.

From the report

This report provides a basic overview of interim continuing resolutions (CRs) and highlights some specific issues pertaining to operations of the Department of Defense (DOD) under a CR.

DOD has started the fiscal year under a CR for 13 of the past 18 years (FY2002-FY2019) and every year since FY2010 excluding FY2019. The amount of time DOD has operated under CR authorities during the fiscal year has tended to increase in the past 10 years and equates to a total of more than 39 months since 2010.

As with regular appropriations bills, Congress can draft a CR to provide funding in many ways. Under current practice, a CR is an appropriation that provides either interim or full-year funding by referencing a set of established funding levels for the projects and activities that it funds (or covers). Such funding may be provided for a period of days, weeks, or months and may be extended through further continuing appropriations until regular appropriations are enacted, or until the fiscal year ends. In recent fiscal years, the referenced funding level on which interim or full-year continuing appropriations has been based was the amount of budget authority that was available under specified appropriations acts from the previous fiscal year.

CRs may also include provisions that enumerate exceptions to the duration, amount, or purposes for which those funds may be used for certain appropriations accounts or activities. Such provisions are commonly referred to as anomalies. The purpose of anomalies is to preserve Congress’s constitutional prerogative to provide appropriations in the manner it sees fit, even in instances when only interim funding is provided.

The lack of a full-year appropriation and the uncertainty associated with the temporary nature of a CR can create management challenges for federal agencies. DOD faces unique challenges operating under a CR while providing the military forces needed to deter war and defend the country. For example, an interim CR may prohibit an agency from initiating or resuming any project or activity for which funds were not available in the previous fiscal year (i.e., prohibit the use of procurement funds for “new starts,” that is, programs for which only R&D funds were appropriated in the previous year). Such limitations in recent CRs have affected a large number of DOD programs. Before the beginning of FY2018, DOD identified approximately 75 weapons programs that would be delayed by the FY2018 CR’s prohibition on new starts and nearly 40 programs that would be affected by a restriction on production quantity.

In addition, Congress may include provisions in interim CRs that place limits on the expenditure of appropriations for programs that spend a relatively high proportion of their funds in the early months of a fiscal year. Also, if a CR provides funds at the rate of the prior year’s appropriation, an agency may be provided additional (even unneeded) funds in one account, such as research and development, while leaving another account, such as procurement, underfunded.

By its very nature, an interim CR limits an agency’s ability to take advantage of efficiencies through bulk buys and multi-year contracts. It can foster inefficiencies by requiring short-term contracts that must be reissued once additional funding is provided, requiring additional or repetitive contracting actions. On the other hand, there is little evidence one way or the other as to whether the military effectiveness of U.S. forces has been fundamentally degraded by the limitations imposed by repeated CRs of months-long duration.

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