Authorization and Appropriations

Authorization is the process by which a legislature establishes an agency or program, sets out its responsibilities and limits, and recommends its appropriations. Appropriations is the process by which a legislature grants budget authority to an agency or program and sets aside money for that purpose. Article I, Section 9 of the United States Constitution states that “[n]o money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” By this provision all federal spending must be approved by Congress in the appropriations process. There is no comparable constitutional requirement for authorization. As a result early federal congresses used the appropriations process to tack on policy riders to money bills, which caused considerable delays, confusion, and annoyance. In response the US House of Representatives adopted a legislative rule in 1837 (subsequently adopted by the US Senate) requiring a two-step tandem process in which no funding could be appropriated for an agency or program that had not first been authorized by the authorization process. Typically, the relevant standing committee authorizes a program or agency (e.g., an education committee authorizes an education program), and then the relevant subcommittee of the appropriations committee decides whether or not to allocate the recommended funding to that program or agency.

SEE ALSO Congress as a Governing Institution ; Federal Budget Process .


Davidson, Roger H., Walter J. Oleszek, Frances E. Lee, and Eric Schickler. Congress and Its Members. 15th ed. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2015.

Stephen Schechter
Russell Sage College