The CR -- The Continuing Resolution
All agencies must have appropriated funds by the start of the fiscal
year (October 1) to operate. Operations take money, so if there is no money
authorized there is no basis for operations. Although there are a few circumstances
that would allow an agency to operate past October 1 without an appropriation for the year
(such as multi year funds having been left over from the preceding year), by and large all
agencies go out of business (shut down or close down) on October 1 if there is no new
appropriations act by this date.
For additional material on shutdowns, see SHUTDOWN.
Congress, however, seldom completes its appropriations work before
October 1. Issues hold up work. There are more pressing matters, disagreements
with the President, and disagreements between the House and Senate. Elections come
every two years.
The way to keep the government from shutting down without an
appropriations act is by passing a "continuing resolution," (CR) or stop-gap
appropriations measure. If all players (the House, the Senate, and the President)
are agreed that a CR is in order, it can be quickly passed and the government stays open.
(A CR is an appropriations act, so it has to undergo the same approvals as all
other laws.) The CR generally provides funds for a short time, and avoids all issues
that may have caused the delay in the regular appropriations act.
Advantages of the CR are that it keeps the government from shutting
down, and provides a level of service that, for most citizens, may not be noticeably
different from normal service. Another advantage is that it keeps key decision
makers (members of Congress, the President, and the President's key aides) from having to
make decisions that they may not want to make. In short, the CR buys time with
Disadvantages are felt within the agency. Most CRs are fairly
restrictive in what funds they provide, and what work may be carried out. CRs
restrict program implementation, and present operating component managers with the need to
delay work and replan and reprogram repeatedly. Plans cannot be implemented and
opportunities are lost. CRs also present budget and administrative staffs with
additional workloads, and reduce the efficiency of work processes. CRs force work
into a nine to ten month work year, wasting two to three months of the year in what is
essentially "wheel spinning" in the affected agencies.
CRs usually are passed in late September or the first days of October,
and may be repeated as needed. They are associated with attempts to facilitate the
continuation of government operations, and are generally not controversial, so can be
considered mostly routine matters that will happen as needed.
The most visible and notable failure to use of CRs took place in the
fall of 1995, when disagreements between the newly Republican controlled Congress and
President Clinton led to failure to pass appropriations acts and CRs, resulting in a short
closure of most of the Federal government, which was later followed by a longer closure of
a large portion of the government. These closures disrupted the affected agencies'
operations for more than a year. It is unlikely that this type of CR (or failure of
a CR) will be repeated in the lives of those who precipitated them. The experiences
were too painful to repeat.
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