CBO’s Work in Progress
CBO provides information about its work in progress and its plans to provide new quarterly updates about that work.
CBO provides information about its work in progress—and indicates that the agency will be providing new quarterly updates about work in progress. To give a sense of the breadth of capabilities involved in CBO’s work, the agency also includes some information about its staff.
Work in Progress
CBO’s work in progress as of the beginning of this month included 51 cost estimates and 21 analytic reports for which the fact that the agency is working on them is public. (For a list, see Attachment A.)
Cost Estimates. Most of CBO’s cost estimates for public proposals are prepared after authorizing committees order legislation to be reported before it is considered by the full House or Senate, as required by the Congressional Budget Act. That CBO is working on such estimates is public knowledge. Other estimates prepared for public proposals, usually at the request of committee leadership, include those for some bills passed by a full chamber and for bills posted on committees’ websites prior to their markups. When completed, these cost estimates are posted on the CBO website. The agency makes estimates related to other public proposals—such as many bills on the suspension calendar—available to interested Members of Congress and their staff. More generally, if a legislative proposal is public, then CBO can discuss whether the agency is working on estimating its cost.
In addition, CBO routinely works with Congressional committees and leadership to provide information and analysis when they are evaluating alternative proposals but have not made specific proposals public. In such situations, CBO recognizes that confidentiality is critical to the legislative process; for example, committees need the flexibility to modify their proposals before making them public. The existence of work in progress is therefore kept confidential. Sometimes that work is provided only as background information and technical assistance, and sometimes it underlies subsequent cost estimates. Once a proposal becomes public, CBO’s estimates for that version of the legislation are publicly available. The confidential assistance is provided equitably to the majority and minority in both chambers.
Analytic Reports. CBO produces a number of reports specified in statute; the annual Budget and Economic Outlook is the most well-known such report. The fact that CBO produces these reports and related work such as the Monthly Budget Review and the Long-Term Budget Outlook is public. Similarly, a variety of other reports, working papers, and other products explain the analytical methods that underlie CBO’s cost estimates, projections, and analysis generally and thus enhance transparency.
Other analytic reports are requested by lawmakers—generally committee Chairs, Ranking Members, or Congressional leadership—to address fiscal policy proposals or broad policy issues. Those reports provide information to support the legislative process. Lawmakers often find it helpful to that process if the agency keeps their request for such work confidential. In some circumstances, however, CBO makes it known that the agency is working on the projects—for instance, when the requester makes his or her request of CBO public or permits CBO to make the work public in order to gain outside feedback most effectively. CBO also makes known when the agency is producing an analytic report in response to interest expressed by many lawmakers.
When CBO’s plan to publish an analytic report is confidential, the agency generally provides public notification on the preceding Thursday that the report is about to be released (as it does for other reports). For example, this year CBO has released the following reports of this type:
- The Role of the Federal Housing Administration in the Reverse-Mortgage Market (May 2019),
- The Personnel Requirements and Costs of New Military Space Organizations (May 2019),
- The Post-9/11 GI Bill: Beneficiaries, Choices, and Cost (May 2019),
- Social Security Replacement Rates and Other Benefit Measures: An In-Depth Analysis (April 2019),
- Expected Costs of Damage From Hurricane Winds and Storm-Related Flooding (April 2019), and
- The Effects of the Partial Shutdown Ending in January 2019 (January 2019).
At the time of public release, CBO makes its work available simultaneously to interested Members of Congress and their staff, the Chair and Ranking Member of the committees of jurisdiction, and the budget committees. At about the same time, the agency posts the work on its website. In addition, an email service, Twitter announcements, and RSS (really simple syndication) feeds notify subscribers.
Staffing of the Congressional Budget Office
To undertake work in support of the Congress, the agency employs analysts with many types of expertise, along with managers and support staff. At the beginning of this year, 245 positions at CBO were filled, with the largest concentration in the area of health. (For details, see Attachment B.) The agency is in the midst of a three-year expansion of its staff aimed at enhancing the transparency and responsiveness of its work.