GAO Glossary of Terms and Definitions (September 2005)


A term that usually modifies either “spending” or “amount.” “Mandatory spending,” also known as “direct spending,” refers to budget authority that is provided in laws other than appropriation acts and the outlays that result from such budget authority. Mandatory spending includes entitlement authority (for example, the Food Stamp, Medicare, and veterans’ pension programs), payment of interest on the public debt, and nonentitlements such as payments to states from Forest Service receipts. By defining eligibility and setting the benefit or payment rules, Congress controls spending for these programs indirectly rather than directly through appropriations acts. “Mandatory amount” refers to the level of budget authority, outlays, or other budgetary resources that are controlled by laws other than appropriations acts.

Budget authority provided in annual appropriations acts for certain programs is treated as mandatory because the authorizing legislation entitles beneficiaries to receive payment or otherwise obligates the government to make payment. (See also Appropriated Entitlement; Appropriations under Forms of Budget Authority under Budget Authority; Multiple-Year Authority and No-Year Authority under Duration under Budget Authority; Committee Allocation; Direct Spending Authority; Discretionary; Entitlement Authority; Gramm-Rudman-Hollings.)

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