CBO Releases Updated Budget Primers and Interactive Tools

Posted by
Phill Swagel
April 18, 2023

CBO is engaged in many efforts aimed at fostering transparency, such as providing additional information to help people understand the federal budget process and the agency’s role in that process. Today, CBO is publishing two updated budget primers (first released in 2018) as part of those efforts:

  • CBO Explains How It Develops the Budget Baseline—The Congressional Budget Act of 1974 (often called the Budget Act) requires CBO to produce an annual report on federal spending, revenues, and deficits or surpluses. This document provides answers to questions about how the agency prepares those baseline budget projections.
  • CBO Describes Its Cost-Estimating Process—The Budget Act also requires CBO to prepare estimates of the cost of legislation at certain points in the legislative process. The agency provides answers to questions about how it prepares those cost estimates.

As noted in its quarterly report on work in progress, published last week, CBO is also preparing other primers to help Congressional staff and the public understand budgetary concepts and the agency’s processes. The documents will explain the analytical framework that CBO uses to identify mandates in legislation, how the agency estimates the budgetary effects of rescissions, the laws that govern how baselines are constructed, and the measures of the government’s fiscal position (such as the ratio of federal debt to gross domestic product) that CBO considers when preparing its long-term budget analyses.

In addition, two new reports in CBO’s Budget Spotlight series will explain how the Medicare and Medicaid Improvement Funds work and how the agency analyzes crop insurance. (Earlier publications in the series focused on the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund and the Army Corps of Engineers.)

Finally, to make CBO’s projections and analyses easier to understand, the agency has been regularly providing interactive tools—three of which were recently updated:

  • A workbook that allows users to explore how changes in economic conditions in relation to CBO’s February 2023 economic forecast would affect its federal budget projections;
  • An interactive waterfall model that allows users to simulate the agency’s process for projecting discretionary budget authority and outlays for different types of spending; and
  • A workbook that allows users to see how revenues and outlays that differed from those in CBO’s February 2023 baseline budget projections would affect debt service, deficits, and debt.

For a review of CBO’s transparency activities in 2022 and a forecast of future work, see Transparency at CBO: Future Plans and a Review of 2022.

Phillip L. Swagel is CBO’s Director.