Washington, D.C. – On September 24, President Biden signed into law the Congressional Budget Justification Transparency Act (P.L. 117-40), after passing the House and Senate with strong bipartisan support.
The Congressional Budget Justification Transparency Act directs federal agencies to publish their Congressional Budget Justifications – the funding requests they submit to Congress each year that explain the resources needed to run programs and achieve their missions – online and in a structured data format that enables users to download reports in bulk. The law also requires the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to coordinate a publicly-available website with a list of each justification by agency and fiscal year.
“This was an incredible bipartisan effort to help improve the business of government. Agency budget justifications contain a wealth of information about agency performance and priorities, but are published in such a way that makes it difficult for Congress and the public to engage with the budget process,” said Corinna Turbes, Policy Director for the Data Foundation. “This bill will make it possible for Congress and the American public to better understand what their government is allocating resources and provide capabilities to analyze how budget proposals, appropriations, and budget execution have changed over time.”
This bill passed almost unanimously in the House and Senate, thanks to the leadership from Representatives Comer (R-KY), Quigley (D-IL), Holmes Norton (D-DC), Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Cooper (D-TN), Khanna (D-CA), Axne (D-IA) and Cline (R-VA) and Senators Peters (D-MI), Portman (R–OH), Carper (D-DE), Cornyn (R-TX) and Ernst (R-IA).
About the Law:
The Congressional Budget Justification Transparency Act directs federal agencies to publish more information online about federal spending. Specifically, the bill would require:
- Information on any funds made available to or expended by a federal agency be posted publicly.
- Agencies to post their annual congressional budget justifications in a structured data format and in a manner that enables users to download the reports in bulk.
- OMB to coordinate a publicly-available website with a list of each justification by agency and fiscal year.
How Will Congressional Appropriators And OMB Staff Benefit From This Law?
Staff across federal agencies, congressional offices, and even the White House budget office spend countless hours searching, collating, and repurposing content for budget formulation activities each year. Part of this exercise often requires agency staff to review old congressional justification materials to identify historical funding trends. By simply adjusting how information is published, staff supporting budget formulation and execution across agencies and branches of government will be able to more efficiently and accurately portray budgetary information to support decision-making on resource allocations. The same is true for reviewing and applying agency performance measures to promote effective performance management in the budget formulation and execution processes.
What Is The Role Of The Office Of Management And Budget?
OMB coordinates the federal budget formulation and execution processes. After annual budgets are developed and proposed funding levels agreed to within the Executive Branch, agencies are required to submit congressional justification materials for review and clearance by OMB staff. This requirement, established in OMB Circular A-11, dictates that agency justification materials align with the formal President’s Budget Request published annually by OMB.
OMB also requires agencies to publish justifications at a vanity URL (agencyXYZ.gov/CJ) following transmission to Congress, unless exempted for national security purposes. However, while OMB publishes top-line budgetary information in the President’s Budget Request volumes, OMB does not provide a consolidated database or repository for agency justifications. OMB already publishes many other budget documents on a central website, and adding the CBJs to that site would be a useful resource for Congress, agency staff, journalists, watchdogs, and the general public.
About the Data Coalition Initiative: The Data Coalition is an initiative of the non-profit Data Foundation. The membership-based initiative facilitates a strong national data community and advocates for responsible policies to make government data high-quality, accessible, and usable. The Data Coalition’s work unites the data communities that focus on data science, management, evaluation, statistics, and technology, including individuals in companies, nonprofit organizations, and academia.