CBO was established under the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 to provide information that would support the Congressional budget process and help the Congress make effective budget and economic policy. CBO’s work follows processes specified in that law and subsequent laws or developed by the agency in concert with the budget committees and the Congressional leadership. The agency’s chief responsibility under the Budget Act is to help the budget committees with the matters under their jurisdiction. CBO also supports other Congressional committees—particularly the Appropriations, Ways and Means, and Finance Committees, as the Budget Act requires—and the leadership of the House and Senate.
The agency is committed to providing information that is:
- Objective—representing not the personal opinions of CBO staff but the consensus and diversity of views of experts from around the country;
- Insightful—applying the best new evidence and innovative ideas as well as the lessons of experience;
- Timely—responding as quickly as possible to the needs of the Congress; and
- Clearly presented and explained—so that policymakers and analysts understand the basis for the agency’s findings and have the opportunity to question the analysis and methods used.
In keeping with CBO’s mandate to provide analysis that is objective as well as impartial, the agency makes no policy recommendations. Instead, it strives to present fully and fairly the likely consequences of alternative proposals being considered by the Congress so that lawmakers can make informed policy choices.
To fulfill its mission, CBO analyzes trends and recent developments related to the economy and the budget. It then develops baseline projections for the next 10 years and the longer term. Those baseline projections serve as neutral benchmarks for gauging the effects of spending and revenue proposals relative to what would occur if current laws generally remained unchanged. Using those benchmarks in most of its analyses, the agency does the following:
- Issues formal cost estimates for almost all bills reported by committees of the House and Senate, including estimates of the cost of intergovernmental and private-sector mandates;
- Provides informal cost estimates while legislation is being developed and while amendments are being considered by the House and Senate;
- Estimates the cost of all appropriation bills;
- Prepares analytic reports and working papers—including testimony about the outlook for the economy and the budget, examinations of the President’s budget, and studies on a broad range of budgetary and economic issues;
- Posts files of data on its website documenting its baseline projections and providing other information underlying the analytic reports; and
- Publishes descriptions of policy options that would reduce budget deficits, as well as information to clearly present and explain CBO’s analyses.
The agency employs analysts with many types of expertise who undertake those activities in collaboration with managers and support staff. At the beginning of January 2018, 233 positions at CBO were filled, with the largest concentration in the area of health.
Information Provided to the Congress in 2017
As it does each year, CBO analyzed trends and recent developments related to the economy and the budget during calendar year 2017 and developed baseline projections. With those projections used as benchmarks in most of its analyses, CBO produced several hundred formal cost estimates and mandate statements, as well as several thousand informal estimates, more than 100 scorekeeping estimates for appropriation bills, and many analytic reports, working papers, data files, and other publications.
Formal Cost Estimates and Mandate Statements
CBO completed 740 formal cost estimates in 2017. They generally included explanations of the components of the estimates and the estimating methodology used. The vast majority also included mandate statements, which assess whether legislation contains intergovernmental or private-sector mandates as defined in the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act and, if so, assess the magnitude of the mandates’ effects on the private sector and on state, local, and tribal governments. Among CBO’s cost estimates in 2017 were several that assessed the effects of proposals that would have significantly affected health insurance coverage.
Informal Cost Estimates
Most of the agency’s estimates are provided on a preliminary, informal basis—when legislative proposals are still at the early stages of development by committees or by the leadership of the House or Senate, for instance, or when amendments are being considered by the House and Senate. CBO provided several thousand informal cost estimates in 2017.
On an ongoing basis during 2017, CBO provided spending estimates with account-level detail for individual appropriation bills at all stages of the legislative process. Those tabulations totaled 128 last year. The agency also periodically provided summary tables showing the status of discretionary appropriations (by appropriations subcommittee) and running totals on a year-to-date basis.
Reports, Working Papers, and Other Publications About the Budget and Economy
In 2017, CBO produced two major reports about the budget and economic outlook (in January and June), each describing the agency’s baseline projections. CBO also provided a comprehensive analysis of the long-term outlook for the federal budget—that is, the outlook over the next 30 years—which included an analysis of the economic outcomes under different budgetary paths and of the uncertainty surrounding long-term budget projections. In addition, CBO produced an analysis of the President’s budgetary proposals and of their macroeconomic effects. Besides those major reports, CBO released its Monthly Budget Review at the beginning of every month. That report provides a timely analysis of the previous month’s outlays and revenues and a review of budgetary developments for the fiscal year to date.
CBO published numerous other analyses in 2017, with increased emphasis on providing explanations of the agency’s analytical methods in appendixes and as separate documents. Some of those analyses were published as formal reports; others were conveyed as answers to questions for the record following a Congressional hearing or as letters to Members of Congress. Still others were published as working papers, some of which provided technical descriptions of official CBO analyses and others of which presented independent research by CBO analysts. The agency also presented the results of its work in the form of testimony at Congressional hearings. All told, the agency produced 86 such publications.