Time to End “Zombie” Appropriations

A growing problem on Capitol Hill has been the expanding practice of Congress appropriating funds to so-called zombie programs, which are programs that have never been authorized or are operating under an expired authorization. Under House and Senate rules, an appropriation cannot be made for a purpose unless separate authorizing legislation has been passed into law. These rules are often ignored, which has led to rampant growth of unauthorized appropriations.

In its latest report on unauthorized and expiring authorizations, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reports that for fiscal year 2016, the omnibus appropriations bill appropriated more than $310 billion to agencies and programs that had not been reauthorized, and another $611 billion for programs that would expire on or before September 30, 2016. The CBO report does not even take into account additional programs that have never been authorized.

Congress should not be appropriating funds for purposes that are unauthorized. The authorization process is designed in part as an oversight tool. It is a chance for Members of authorizing committees to closely examine the activities that the federal government is funding, and to make decisions about whether they are worthy purposes. Starting this appropriations cycle, Congress should stop making appropriations to zombie agencies and programs, and should not provide any more funding until they have been reauthorized.

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