The Congressional Appropriations Process
In just one year, Democrats passed landmark reforms to make the earmark process more transparent and continue to provide increased transparency for the budget, appropriations, and earmark process from both the administration and Congress.
Under the former system, some earmarks, also known as congressional funding directives, were excessive and unreasonable, but many more supported meaningful, national programs and helped local communities benefit from their federal tax contributions and/ or meet federal mandates.
The congressional budget resolution allocates the maximum amount of funding for all discretionary federal initiatives in every fiscal year. The appropriators determine how much actual funding is dedicated for each discretionary initiative, which constitutes about one-third of the federal budget. There are 12 appropriations bills organized by agencies and focus; each bill is handled by an Appropriations Subcommittee.
The Appropriations Committees hold oversight hearings, review the budget, collect, and review requests from individual Members of Congress for funding within their district and national programs. Depending upon the budget authority, the Committee then appropriates federal funding.
The Appropriations Committee is not, however, an authorizing committee; it cannot craft legislation that creates, modifies, or extends federal programs. The Committee decides how much federal funding is dedicated to discretionary initiatives.
The funding included in these bills must pass the Subcommittee, Full Committee, entire House, and then proceed through the same process in the Senate. Once the differences between the House and Senate versions of a bill are resolved through a Conference Committee composed of House and Senate representatives, the Conference Committee's Report is considered by the House and Senate before being sent to the President for signature.
Each appropriations bill should be enacted by October 1st. If it has not been signed into law by that date, Congress usually adopts a continuing resolution, a stop-gap measure that continues funding for all departments, agencies, offices, and operations funded by that specific bill at the previous fiscal year level for a set period of time.
Each Member of Congress has their own process for considering constituents' requests to fund local projects and national programs through the congressional appropriations process. In general, interested individuals should contact their respective Member of Congress at the beginning of the fiscal year - October, November, and December - to understand the office's process, the eligibility requirements, and deadlines for appropriations submissions.
For example, Congressman Lewis' deadline for all programmatic, project, and report language appropriations requests is always the first week in February each year. An “Eligible” project means that the request is from a State or local government authority, or non-profit organization located within the 5th Congressional District of Georgia.
Unfortunately, late requests are not accepted, but the office is always willing to help plan for the following fiscal year, and assist constituents with federal grants. Unlike appropriations,federal grant assistance is a continuous process, usually coordinated out of each Member's District Office.