A Summary of Selected CBO Reports on Cash and Accrual Budgeting: Working Paper 2019-09
The costs of federal activities are recorded in the budget mostly on a cash basis. Using accrual accounting for retirement and insurance programs would accelerate the recognition of long-term costs and display the expected costs of new commitments when they were incurred.
Federal retirement programs and some federal insurance programs have long-term effects on the budget. But the federal budget process typically uses cash-based accounting measures that cover a 10-year period, which may be too short to accurately report those programs’ net budgetary effects over the long term. In contrast, using accrual accounting for such programs would accelerate the recognition of long-term costs and would display the expected costs of new commitments when they were incurred and thus were most controllable. However, such estimates are less transparent and verifiable than cash-based estimates, involve more uncertainty, and can complicate budget reporting.