Products

CBO provides budgetary and economic information in a variety of ways and at various points in the legislative process.

Baseline Budget and Economic Projections

As required by the Budget Act, CBO regularly publishes projections of budgetary and economic outcomes that are based on the assumption that current laws about federal spending and revenues will generally remain in place. Those baseline projections cover the 10-year period used in the Congressional budget process. Reports on those projections usually describe differences between current and previous projections, compare CBO’s economic forecast with other forecasts, and show the budgetary effects of some alternative policies. Specific rules for developing baseline projections are set in law (in particular, the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985) or have been developed by CBO in consultation with the House and Senate Budget Committees.

The baseline projections are not intended to predict budgetary or economic outcomes. Rather, they reflect CBO’s assessment of how the budget and the economy would evolve under existing laws. That approach allows the baseline to serve as a neutral benchmark for measuring the effects of proposed legislation. For more information, see How CBO Prepares Baseline Budget Projections and How CBO Produces Its 10-Year Economic Forecast.

CBO’s economic forecasts cover the major economic variables—gross domestic product, unemployment, inflation, and interest rates—along with a broad array of other economic measures. The forecasts draw information from CBO’s ongoing analysis of daily economic events and data, the major commercial forecasting services, consultation with economists both within and outside the federal government, and the advice of the experts on the agency’s Panel of Economic Advisers.

Frequency: The Budget and Economic Outlook is generally issued each January and updated in August; the budget projections are also usually updated in March.

Cost Estimates

CBO is required by law to produce a formal cost estimate for nearly every bill that is approved by a full committee of either the House or the Senate. Those cost estimates are only advisory. They can—but do not have to—be used to enforce budgetary rules or targets. Moreover, CBO does not enforce such budgetary rules; the Budget Committees do.

Cost estimates show how a bill would affect spending or revenues over the next 5 or 10 years, depending on the type of spending involved, and describe the basis for the estimate. For most tax legislation, CBO uses estimates provided by the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation, a separate group that works closely with the Congressional tax-writing committees. In addition to preparing formal written estimates for bills approved by committees, CBO provides many more preliminary informal estimates as committees are considering which legislation to advance, as amendments to legislation are being debated, and at other stages in the legislative process. For more information, see How CBO Prepares Cost Estimates and CBO’s Cost Estimates Explained.

CBO’s analysts are available to answer Members’ questions about its cost estimates. By law, CBO’s primary responsibility is to Congressional committees. Individual Members seeking a cost estimate from CBO may submit a request, with any draft language attached or the bill number referenced, by email to costestimates@cbo.gov. CBO tries to provide informal feedback on possible direct spending effects, usually by phone or email. If its analysts cannot work on an estimate right away, CBO will provide a sense of whether and when an estimate can be prepared.

Frequency: Produced throughout the year, with formal estimates typically numbering between 600 and 800 annually and informal estimates numbering in the many thousands.

Long-Term Budget Projections

CBO also provides the Congress with budget projections beyond the standard 10-year period. Those projections, which focus on the next 30 years, show the effects of demographic trends, economic developments, and health care costs on federal spending, revenues, and deficits. The assumptions about federal spending and revenue policies used for the long-term budget projections match those underlying the agency’s 10-year baseline for the first decade and are extended in a similar way to later years. The projections also include the long-term budgetary and economic effects of some alternative policies.

Frequency: Produced annually, usually in the summer. Interim updates are provided in The Budget and Economic Outlook each January.

Testimony and Answers to Questions for the Record

CBO testifies at Congressional hearings, providing written statements and answering specific public questions from Members of Congress. It also publishes answers to Members’ subsequent questions on the agency’s website.

Frequency: Produced throughout the year.

Analytic Reports

CBO’s reports cover every major area of federal policy, including spending programs, the tax code, and budgetary and economic challenges. Most reports are written at the request of the Chairman or Ranking Member of a committee or subcommittee or at the request of the leadership of either party in the House or Senate. Typically, the reports present a set of options for changes in the federal program or tax rules under consideration, estimating each option’s budgetary and economic effects and discussing its benefits and drawbacks. As with the agency’s other products, those reports make no recommendations.

CBO prepares some of its analytic reports annually. The agency is required to publish estimates of the caps on funding for discretionary programs for each fiscal year through 2021 and to report whether, according to those estimates, a sequestration (a cancellation of budgetary resources that have already been provided) would be required. However, the Office of Management and Budget ultimately decides whether a sequestration is required on the basis of its own estimates.

CBO also publishes an annual report on the Defense Department’s five-year plan, known as the Future Years Defense Program. The report examines the plan’s costs and long-term budgetary implications. In addition, CBO prepares a report each year listing all programs and activities funded for the current fiscal year for which authorizations of appropriations have expired or will expire during the current fiscal year.

Frequency: Produced throughout the year.

Analyses of the President’s Budget

After the President submits a budget, CBO produces its own estimate of the effects of the proposed policies using the agency’s own economic forecast and estimating methods—the same ones it uses to make its baseline spending and revenue projections and to estimate the effects of other spending and revenue proposals. That approach allows the Congress to compare the various proposals and projections.

Frequency: Produced annually, usually in March. CBO sometimes provides a subsequent analysis of the effects of the President’s budgetary proposals on the economy and the resulting feedback to the federal budget.

Budget Options

CBO produces a reference volume examining options for reducing budget deficits. It includes a wide range of options, derived from many sources, for reducing spending or increasing revenues. For each option, CBO estimates its effects on the budget and discusses its benefits and drawbacks.

Frequency: Produced every two years.

Analyses of Federal Mandates

CBO’s cost estimates for committee-approved bills include analyses of any mandates and associated costs that those bills would impose on state, local, and tribal governments and on the private sector.

Frequency: Produced throughout the year.

Monthly Budget Review

CBO issues a monthly analysis of federal spending and revenue totals for the previous month and the fiscal year to date.

Frequency: Produced on the fifth working day of each month.

Scorekeeping for Legislation

CBO provides the Budget and Appropriations Committees with frequent tabulations of Congressional action affecting spending and revenues. Those scorekeeping reports provide information about whether legislative actions are consistent with the spending and revenue levels set by budget resolutions.

Frequency: Produced periodically during the year.

Working Papers

CBO’s working papers provide technical descriptions of official CBO analyses as well as independent research by CBO’s analysts. Those publications enhance the transparency and encourage external review of CBO’s work.

Frequency: Produced throughout the year.

Data and Technical Information

To provide more details about CBO’s budget and economic projections and to increase the transparency of CBO’s other analyses, the agency posts data and other technical information on its website.

Frequency: Produced throughout the year and coordinated with the release of related publications.

Presentations

CBO’s staff gives presentations on various topics to interested Congressional staff and outside groups. The agency publishes information about those presentations on its website.

Frequency: Produced throughout the year.