The federal government, through laws and regulations, sometimes imposes requirements—known as federal mandates—on state, local, and tribal governments and entities in the private sector in order to achieve national goals. In 1995, lawmakers enacted the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (UMRA) in part to ensure that, during the legislative process, the Congress receives information about proposed federal mandates and their costs before enacting a piece of legislation.
UMRA defines a mandate as any provision in legislation that, when enacted, would do one of the following:
- Impose an enforceable duty on state, local, or tribal governments or on private-sector entities;
- Reduce or eliminate funding authorized to cover the costs of complying with existing mandates;
- Increase the stringency of conditions that apply to the provision of funds to state, local, or tribal governments through certain large mandatory programs or make cuts in federal funding for those mandatory programs if the affected governments lack the flexibility to alter the programs.
Duties that are imposed as conditions of federal assistance or that are tied to participating in voluntary federal programs generally are not considered mandates as defined in UMRA.
The law requires the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to prepare mandate statements for bills that are approved by authorizing committees; when requested, the agency also reviews other legislative proposals for intergovernmental and private-sector mandates. CBO found that most of the legislation the Congress considered in 2011 contained no mandates as defined in UMRA. Of the 434 bills CBO reviewed in 2011, 56 (13 percent) contained inter-governmental mandates and 67
(15 percent) contained private-sector mandates. Of the 81 public laws enacted in 2011, 12 contained intergovernmental mandates and 16 contained private-sector mandates. Many of those mandates were temporary extensions of existing mandates and were included in continuing resolutions that provided funding for federal programs until full-year appropriations were enacted.