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Continuing Appropriations Acts: Brief Overview of Recent Practices

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Publication Date: September 1997

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: 97-892

Topic: Government (Legislative power and procedure)


Under the Constitution and federal law, no funds may be drawn from the U.S. Treasury or obligated by federal officials unless appropriated by law.2 Normally, most of the operations of federal departments and agencies are funded each year through the separate enactment of 13 regular appropriations acts.3 However, it is not unusual for the enactment of one or more of these acts to be delayed beyond the beginning of the fiscal year on October 1.4 When this occurs, affected departments and agencies usually are funded under one or more continuing appropriations acts.

Because continuing appropriations acts typically are enacted in the form of a joint resolution, such acts are referred to as continuing resolutions (or CRs).

Beginning in the early 1970s, a sustained period of heightened budgetary conflict, caused in part by persistent deficits and other factors, led to changes in the nature of continuing resolutions. In some years, this conflict greatly complicated their timely enactment. On occasion, such conflict has prevented agreement even on short-term funding extensions. When this occurs, the ensuing period of lapsed appropriations is known as a funding gap. During late 1995 and early 1996, two funding gaps occurred, forcing affected federal departments and agencies to shut down non-essential activities.