Democrats: Budget rule change undercuts Congress’ authority

The new rule instructs agencies to report alleged violations only if the agency, in consultation with OMB, agrees a violation occurred

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., leaves the Senate Democrats’ policy lunch in the Capitol on Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Democratic appropriations leaders wrote to the Office of Management and Budget Friday objecting to a decision to limit agencies’ reporting of alleged budget violations, which they said is an attempt to weaken congressional oversight.

The letter from House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., and Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, follows a General Accountability Office opinion that suggests the new procedure violates the law.

In the letter to Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Acting OMB Director Russell Vought, Leahy and Lowey say the revision “undercut a long-standing application of agency reporting requirements spelled out in the Antideficiency Act.” They add that it “purports to permit agencies that have violated the Antideficiency Act in the eyes of the U.S. Government Accountability Office to withhold relevant information from Congressional oversight.”

In the Sept. 23 opinion, GAO General Counsel Thomas H. Armstrong wrote that OMB in June amended its procedures in what is called Circular No. A-11 to end agencies’ automatic reporting of alleged violations of the Antideficiency Act. The act bars federal agencies from spending money beyond what is appropriated by Congress.

Under the new procedure, OMB instructs agencies to report alleged violations only if the agency, in consultation with OMB, agrees that a violation has occurred.

In the past, OMB directed agencies to report violations found by GAO “even if they disagreed with GAO’s determination,” GAO said.

GAO said the law requires agencies immediately to report Antideficiency Act violations to the President and Congress. “The Antideficiency Act serves to protect and underscore Congress’s constitutional prerogatives of the purse,” GAO says.

GAO said it will continue to report the violations to Congress whenever an agency does not report them.

The letter from Lowey and Leahy urges OMB to restore the guidance to its previous form.

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