The Antideficiency Act: A Primer

The Antideficiency Act (ADA) bars federal employees from spending or otherwise obligating funds to be spent in excess of amounts or for the purpose approved by Congress, accepting voluntary services, or spending or otherwise obligating funds in excess of agency spending plans.

Unique to all budget laws includes potential criminal penalties, in addition to administrative sanctions, for violations. However, no one has ever been prosecuted under this statute. In the past ten years 8 federal employees have been suspended or removed from their positions for violations. Despite these possible penalties, violations continue to occur, with 197 violations reported covering more than $9.66 billion dollars – with a $1.6 billion expenditure being the largest instance.

While seemingly related to budget minutiae, the ADA is remarkably broad in its influence on governance: it determines the mechanics of government shutdowns and has arisen in a diverse array of public policy areas from the Bergdahl prisoner exchange to ongoing litigation over the Affordable Care Act.

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