Patterns of Change: Information Change and Congressional Budget Deliberations Revisited
Ahmad, Alaa Aldin A., Grizzle, Gloria A., Pettijohn, Carole D., Journal of Public Budgeting, Accounting & Financial Management
ABSTRACT. How did the Planning Programming Budgeting System (PPBS), and the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act (CBA) of 1974 change the nature of budget hearing deliberations in Congress? This study focuses upon the inquiry search patterns from 1949 through 1984 for the three House Appropriations subcommittees that reviewed the Forest, Parks, Prison, Internal Revenue, and Immigration and Naturalization Services' budget requests. After PPBS was implemented, all three subcommittees emphasized programmatic questioning more and object-of-expenditure questioning less. The more prevalent pattern of change was an abrupt change after implementing the budget reform followed by a gradual cumulative effect in subsequent years. A less prevalent pattern was an abrupt change followed by a gradual decrement over time.
Budgeting processes are dynamic rather than static. Governments change their budget processes at irregular intervals. As an example of this dynamic nature of budgeting, consider the aggregate pattern of changes Lee and Burns (2000) report from their latest survey of state governments. They describe the changes in performance information presented that occurred in state budgets between 1990 and 1995 as having an ebb-and-flow, advancing and backsliding pattern. To illustrate this pattern, the changes in two of their ten categories are summarized here. First, are productivity measures revised when funding levels are changed? Of the 19 states that responded affirmatively in 1990, 5 said "no" in 1995. Of the 27 states that responded negatively in 1990, 8 changed their response to "yes" in 1995. Second, is effectiveness discussed in the budget narrative? Of the 17 states that responded "yes" in 1990, 8 answered "no" in 1995. Of the 23 states saying they did not do so in 1990, 9 said they did do so in 1995 (Lee & Burns, 2000).
At the federal level of government, budget reforms during the past half century have included executive-initiated reforms, such as the Planning Programming Budgeting System (PPBS), and legislative reforms contained in the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act (CBA) of 1974, the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985, the Budget Enforcement Act of 1990, and the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993, This study focuses upon two of those reforms, PPBS and CBA, starting about a decade apart.
An assumption underlying the budget reform literature is that changes in budgetary process affect deliberations about the budget and that this change in deliberations leads to different budget outcomes (Burkhead, 1956; Fenno, 1968; Grizzle, 1986; Mosher, 1954; Schick, 1980; Wildavsky, 1975). For example, Richard Fenno (1968, p. 175) asserts that "every change in the budgeting process has an effect on the distribution of power within the political system, on who wins and who loses conflicts over policy, on whose preferences are granted legitimacy, on who gets what in American society."
Donald Axelrod (1995, p. 318) states that we can only determine the impact of budget reforms on a case-by-case basis. He goes on to say that the "budgetary literature is singularly bereft of such vital data." An exception to this generally valid conclusion is James Jernberg's (1966) study of the effects of performance budgeting upon the types of questions Congressmen ask agency representatives in appropriation hearings. The five agencies Jernberg studied fall within the area of domestic discretionary spending. Domestic discretionary spending during the past thirty-five years has ranged from fifteen to twenty-two percent of total federal outlays (Schick, 1995).
Jernberg found that, over a sixteen-year period (1949-64), the three House Appropriations Subcommittees that he investigated had different inquiry orientations and modes of searching for confidence that persisted over the period studied. Whereas the Interior Subcommittee emphasized inquiries about programs in order to seek assurance that the Forest Service and National Park Service were living up to performance expectations, the State, Justice, Commerce, and Judiciary Subcommittee emphasized inquiries about objects of expenditure in order to assess the Federal Prison System and Immigration and Naturalization Service representatives' capability and the reliability of the data they presented. …