The federal government’s fiscal year runs from October 1st through September 30th.  In addition to paying off interest on the national debt, the federal government disburses two types of funding: 

  •  “Mandatory Spending” refers to the spending that happens no matter what Congress does and is largely made up of earned-benefit programs, such as Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, food stamps, veterans’ benefits, etc.  The amount spent on these accounts is determined by circumstances; Congress does not set a specific amount to be spent for these programs and can change the amount spent on them only by changing the eligibility rules.  Mandatory spending makes up nearly 2/3 of the total federal budget.
  • Discretionary Spending” refers to the portion of the budget that goes through the annual appropriations process each year.  Discretionary spending includes funding for defense programs (referred to as defense discretionary) and non-defense discretionary programs (also referred to as NDD).  NDD encompasses all non-defense and non-entitlement funding, including funding for social services, housing programs, environmental protection, education, job training, border security, scientific research, transportation, homeland security programs, etc.  In 2013, non-defense discretionary spending accounted for 17 percent of total federal spending.

Budget/Budget Committee

In February of each year, the President releases his annual budget request to Congress, which lists the amount of funding his administration would like allocated to each agency/program.  In March/April, the House and Senate release their own budgets, drafted by the House and Senate Budget Committees, giving a rough outline of how they want funding to be distributed in the next fiscal year.  

Appropriations Process

Once the budgets have been released, the Appropriations Committees of the House and Senate write the bills that fund the government.  The Appropriations committees have 12 subcommittees and, therefore, Congress should pass (and the President sign) 12 Appropriations bills each year.  The subcommittees are:

  • Agriculture  - Funds agriculture programs, food stamps, school lunches, research
  • Commerce, Justice, and Science* – Funds science agencies (NSF, NOAA, NIST, NASA) and programs run out of the Commerce and Justice Departments, including police/crime programs.
  • Defense*  – Funds the military, as well as the basic research programs at the Department of Defense and DARPA.
  • Energy and Water* – Funds basic and applied science and ARPA-E at the Department of Energy;  water/beach replenishment programs; and the Army Corps of Engineers
  • Financial Services – Funds Treasury programs and the National Historic Publications and Records Commission
  • Homeland Security – Funds immigration control, border control, FEMA, Secret Service, Coast Guard, TSA, homeland security basic research
  • Interior and the Environment* – Funds EPA and the National Endowment for the Humanities
  • Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education* – Funds education programs (including Pell grants and Work Study, international education programs, graduate humanities programs); the National Institutes of Health
  • Legislative Branch – Funds Congress, the Library of Congress, and the Capitol
  • Military Construction
  • State and Foreign Operations – Funds the State Department, international education programs, and foreign aid
  • Transportation and Housing – Funds transportation and housing programs

*These are the subcommittees/bills that our Office monitors most closely.