How Congress appropriates

Earlier this month, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) published a report on the congressional appropriations process. The report covers the following:
  • annual appropriations cycle
  • types of appropriations measures
  • spending ceilings for appropriations associated with the annual budget resolution
  • relationship between authorization and appropriation measures
The annual appropriations cycle begins when the president submits his annual budget to Congress. Congress then adopts a budget resolution, considers appropriation measures, votes on the bills, and if passed, sends them to the president for his signature or veto.

The types of appropriations measures are 11 regular appropriations bills, continuing resolutions (to maintain temporary funding if a regular appropriations measure is not enacted by the deadline), and supplementals for additional funds or for unforeseen needs such as disasters.

The budget resolution covers at least five fiscal years. For each year, it sets the total budget and allocates spending among 20 functional categories (such as national defense, transportation, etc.).

Authorization and allocation measures are considered in sequence. Authorizations establish, continue, or modify agencies or programs. Appropriation measures then give these agencies and programs their budgets.

The Congressional Appropriations Process: An Introduction , CRS Report 97-684 (pdf, 32pp/176kB, from Open CRS), December 8, 2006

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Recent GAO reports


NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND ACT: Education's Data Improvement Efforts Could Strengthen the Basis for Distributing Title III Funds GAO-07-140, December 7, 2006
      Highlights (pdf, 1p/92kB)    Report (pdf 57pp/1.7MB)
      Title III of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) provides for the education of students with limited English proficiency.

POSTSECONDARY EDUCATION: Multiple Tax Preferences and Title IV Student Aid Programs Create a Complex Education Financing Environment GAO-07-262T, December 5, 2006
      Highlights (pdf, 1p/76kB)   Testimony (pdf, 41pp/1MB)
      Compares postsecondary student aid under Title IV of the Higher Education Act with tax preferences such as the Hope Credit.

Eminent Domain

EMINENT DOMAIN: Information about Its Uses and Effect on Property Owners and Communities Is Limited GAO-07-28, November 30, 2006
      Highlights (pdf, 1p/60kB)   Report (pdf, 58p/932kB)
      Includes general information on post-Kelo (pdf, 58pp/412kB) legislation enacted by 29 states, from June 23, 2005, through July 31, 2006.
      See earlier FR post, Jan. 06

Financial Management

FINANCIAL LITERACY AND EDUCATION COMMISSION: Further Progress Needed to Ensure an Effective National Strategy GAO-07-100, December 4, 2006
      Highlights (pdf, 1p/60kB)   Report (pdf, 54pp/740kB)
      Discusses the National Strategy for Financial Literacy.


NEW DRUG DEVELOPMENT: Science, Business, Regulatory, and Intellectual Property Issues Cited as Hampering Drug Development Efforts, GAO-07-49, November 17, 2006
      Highlights (pdf, 1p/100kB)   Report (pdf, 52pp/1MB)
      Addresses concerns that new drug applications (NDAs) for new molecular entities (NMEs) have declined since 1996.
      See related FR post, Oct. 06

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Hungry, homeless and younger

"Hunger and homelessness are not simply part of the 'natural order of things'. They represent inexcusable failures of political will and human imagination," Rep. McGovern said. "All of us -- at all levels of government and throughout society -- must rededicate ourselves to addressing the needs of ALL Americans." *
The U.S. Conference of Mayors surveyed 23 major cities during 2006 seeking information and estimates from each city on:
  1. the demand for emergency food assistance and emergency shelter and the capacity of local agencies to meet that demand;
  2. the causes of hunger and homelessness and the demographics of the populations experiencing these problems;
  3. exemplary programs or efforts in the cities to respond to hunger and homelessness;
  4. the availability of affordable housing for low income people; and
  5. the outlook for the future and the impact of the economy on hunger and homelessness.
Among the mayors' findings:
Families and individuals relied on emergency food assistance facilities both in emergencies and as a steady source of food over long periods of time.

Unemployment and other employment-related problems lead the list of causes of hunger identified by the city officials.

Single men comprise 51 percent of the homeless population, families with children 30 percent, single women 17 percent, and unaccompanied youth 2 percent.

An average of 23 percent of the requests for emergency shelter by homeless people overall and 29 percent of the requests by homeless families alone are estimated to have gone unmet during the last year.

The mayors' forecast for 2007 :
Seventy-two percent of the survey cities expect that their requests for emergency food assistance will increase in 2007.

During 2007 requests for emergency food assistance by families with children are expected to increase in 95 percent of the survey cities...

Sixty-eight percent of the survey cities expect that requests for emergency shelter to increase in 2007.

Seventy-five percent of the survey cities expect that requests for shelter by families to increase in 2007.
Hunger and Homelessness Survey - A Status Report on Hunger and Homelessness in America's Cities. A 23-City Survey, December 2006
(2006, pdf, 96pp/832kB)

photo from Survey cover page
* from Hunger and Homelessness Survey press release (pdf)

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Ready or not yet?

Half the states are definitely not, and most others need improvement. Oklahoma scored the highest in a report on American health emergencies readiness and disaster preparedness, achieving 10 of the 10 possible indicators. Virginia had 8. The Trust for America's Health (TFAH) released a 2006 report card on America's disaster readiness as it had in 2005, noted in the FR post in January '06, which had rated Hawaii as one of 16 states to receive only 5 out of the ten indicators. This year's report found Hawaii to achieve 7 out of the ten indicators for preparedness.

The report mentions several key findings:
  • Forty states face a shortage of nurses.
  • Rates for vaccinating seniors for the seasonal flu decreased in 13 states.
  • Eleven states and D.C. lack sufficient capabilities to test for biological threats.
  • Four states do not test year-round for the flu, which is necessary to monitor for a pandemic outbreak.
  • Six states cut their public health budgets from fiscal year (FY) 2005 to 2006.

Ready or Not? Protecting the Public's Health from Disease, Disasters, and Bioterrorism, 2006
(2006, pdf, 84pp/1MB)

Summary and individual state reports available in HTML.

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Resale-restricted, owner-occupied & affordable

The National Housing Institute (NHI) is an independent nonprofit organization that examines "key issues affecting affordable housing and community development practitioners and their supporters...housing, jobs, safety, and education, with an emphasis on housing and economic development." An NIH 2006 study, jointly funded by the Surdna and Ford foundations, examines shared equity homeownership. The study focuses on "limited equity cooperative; the community land trust; and deed-restricted homes with durable covenants regulating their occupancy, eligibility, and affordability." The author writes:
Public policy has been a key factor in determining where alternative models of homeownership will thrive. Below the federal level, the three policies most favorable to the growth of shared equity homeownership are durable affordability, subsidy retention, and equitable taxation. Where these policies are lacking, resale-restricted housing tends to be in short supply.
Density allowances can be too low, subsidies too meager, and the political will too weak in the face of community resistance to develop, market, and manage resale-restricted, owner-occupied housing.

However, the study continues:
Well over a hundred community land trusts exist across the country, from Burlington, Vermont to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Limited equity cooperatives, although predominantly an urban housing type, have become a more widely used vehicle for building stable homeownership and preserving affordability in mobile home parks from New Hampshire to California. With the dramatic growth in inclusionary housing during the past decade, tens of thousands of shared equity condominium units have been created across the country...

Shared Equity Homeownership - The Changing Landscape of Resale-Restricted, Owner-Occupied Housing
by John Emmeus Davis, Research Fellow, National Housing Institute
(2006, pdf, 158pp/1.2MB)

Preface available in HTML.



Premium support in Medicare

One of the strategies proposed to control escalating Medicare costs is converting Medicare to a premium support system, whereby the federal government would give beneficiaries an amount to purchase regular Medicare fee-for-service coverage or to enroll in a private plan. Formulating such a system is the subject of a recent 66-page report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

According to the report, about 17 percent of Medicare beneficiaries are enrolled in private Medicare Advantage plans that provide Medicare benefits. For each private enrollee, the government sets a maximum payment called the benchmark, which is set at the county level. In a premium support system, CBO proposes that the government's contribution could be established by competitive bidding by private plans or be a set amount. In a bid approach, benchmarks could be determined by the bids rather than by statutory rules as currently done.

In its analysis, CBO notes a number of uncertainties in the effects of such a system, from costs and premiums to whether a benefits package should be standardized. Under the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003, P.L. 108-173 (pdf, 416pp/1MB), the government is to conduct a six-year, six-city demonstration of premium support beginning in 2010.

Designing a Premium Support System for Medicare (pdf, 66pp/608kB), December 2006

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Symphony blues

Last month the Wall Street Journal carried two articles on the plight of classical music in the U.S. today--one on the trials of attracting audiences to symphony performances and the other on a new PBS series.

In discussing endeavors to fill concert halls, "Unsuccessful overtures" (Nov. 4, P14) focused on a project of the James S. and John L. Knight Foundation called the Magic of Music Initiative, which spanned 10 years and involved 15 orchestras. The final report of the project, The Search for Shining Eyes (pdf, 59pp/4.5MB), was published in September.
It deserves attention precisely because it debunks many salvation strategies -- free concerts in clubs, cafes and museums; using jean-clad, not tuxedo-garbed, musicians; online instruction and other programs to educate the masses, among others -- that symphonies keep using to attract concertgoers, to little avail. These efforts may have other benefits, but they're not increasing the number of tickets sold.
The report does not give specific solutions to the dilemma. According to the article, people listen to classical music most in the car, then the home, not the concert hall. "Lesson No. 1 in the report blames the problems of orchestras on 'the delivery systems'--it's clear that people do not want to pay hefty sums for a long concert in a large concert hall." What to do? Keep experimenting. "There are, after all, plenty of people interested in classical music--just not the way that music is being served up."

The Honolulu Symphony has faced similar problems with attendance and revenue. To boost both, a Honolulu Advertiser article in January reported on major changes symphony management was undertaking.

In the second WSJ article, "Doubting Thomas" (Nov. 11, P24), writer Terry Teachout raved about Keeping Score, a series hosted by Michael Tilson Thomas that began with three hour-long documentaries in November. "It's terrific," he declared, but after describing the programs, rued, "Nobody is going to watch them." DVDs of the programs will be available. Teachout continued, "Believe me, they're worth watching--but once again, who's going to buy them?" "Keeping Score" is set to have a 5-year run on PBS. Teachout believes it should be a half-hour series. "Such a format would be far more accessible to younger viewers with shorter attention spans, not to mention older ones with crowded schedules."

Times and audiences have changed.

Little green schoolhouse

"Building design, materials, operation, maintenance, and cleaning practices can affect occupants' health and development," so The National Academies Press (NAP) introduces its study on the health and productivity benefits of green schools.
...students in buildings that rated as poor had test scores that were, on average, 5 percent lower than students in school buildings categorized as fair and 10 percent lower than students in buildings categorized as excellent.
Buildings account for 40 percent of U.S. energy use and 40 percent of atmospheric emissions, greenhouse gases, and other pollutants. The report undertakes the complex task of comparing studies which analyze overall building condition with student achievement and examine the total building health environment (dampness, mold, lighting, fresh air, etc) affecting not only students' performance but that of the professional stakeholder group, i.e., teachers, administrators (principals, financial staff, counselors, librarians) and support staff . The quality of building support staff "may significantly affect the performance of building systems, the timeliness and quality of maintenance repair, and cleaning practices." As buildings deteriorate, performance suffers and development is affected.

Of course, the issue is more than buildings.
Given the complexity of the interaction between people and their environments, establishing cause-and-effect relationships between an attribute of a green school or other building and its effect on people is very difficult.
Though the many societal factors influencing student and teacher health, productivity and learning are complex, the study concludes it may be possible to further determine whether and how a green school may be of benefit:
Future green school guidelines should place greater emphasis, on building systems...identify potential interactions between building systems, occupants, and operation and maintenance practices and identify conflicts that will necessitate tradeoffs among building features to meet differing objectives

Green Schools: Attributes for Health and Learning
(an Open Book from NAP, 2006, 208 pp)

Executive Summary
(pdf, 25pp/220kB)

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