While an “appropriation” is at its core very simple and is indicated in the U.S. Constitution:The United States Constitution in Article I, section 9, which states:  “No money shall be drawn from the treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law.” 

Beyond the basic idea of Federal government funds authorized to be legally obligated as a result of the enactment of a law lies a vast web of circumstances constituting such a case, and the permutations attendant thereto. While not sufficiently comprehensive, the BCR page is one place to start: §004. Appropriations

For detailed information, nothing is quite as good as the GAO Principles of Appropriation Law, which are commonly known as the “Red Books”, due to the color of the binders (though they are more of a burgundy really). 

Source: GAO Glossary of Terms and Definition (September 2005)


The term appropriations means budget authority to incur obligations and to make payments from the Treasury for specified purposes. An appropriation act is the most common means of providing appropriations; however, authorizing and other legislation itself may provide appropriations. (See also Backdoor Authority/Backdoor Spending.)

Appropriations do not represent cash actually set aside in the Treasury for purposes specified in the appropriation act; they represent amounts that agencies may obligate during the period of time specified in the respective appropriation acts. An appropriation may make funds available from the general fund, special funds, or trust funds. Certain types of appropriations are not counted as budget authority because they do not provide authority to incur obligations. Among these are appropriations to liquidate contract authority (legislation to provide funds to pay obligations incurred against contract authority), to redeem outstanding debt (legislation to provide funds for debt retirement), and to refund receipts. Sometimes appropriations are contingent upon the occurrence of some other action specified in the appropriation law, such as the enactment of a subsequent authorization or the fulfillment of some action by the executive branch. (See also Appropriation Act; Discretionary; Expired Budget Authority under Availability for New Obligations under Budget Authority; Mandatory.)

[See under “Forms of Budget Authority” under Budget Authority.]

Senate Links to Appropriations Bills/Legislation

Tables list appropriations bills, hearings, and reports by fiscal year.

For FY2017 and future years, tables will link to


Appropriation Rider


House Committee on Appropriations




Addendum from the principles of appropriations law:

Principles of Federal Appropriations Law
Chapter 2

Fourth Edition 2016 Revision
pp. 2-22 – 2-23

The Legal Framework

B. The Budget and Appropriations Process

4. Appropriations: the Enactment of Budget Authority

d. What Constitutes an Appropriation

As we discussed in chapter 1, “any time the Congress specifies the manner in which a Federal entity shall be funded and makes such funds available for obligation and expenditure, that constitutes an appropriation, whether the language is found in an appropriation act or in other legislation.”26 B-193573, Dec. 19, 1979. Some agency activities, such as those arising from permanent provisions permitting the obligation and expenditure of amounts collected from user fees, are not financed by annual appropriations because Congress need not enact annual legislation authorizing the obligations and expenditures. Nonetheless, such activities are financed by appropriations and, absent any statute stating otherwise, such activities are subject to the limitations imposed by law upon the use of all appropriated amounts.

Occasionally, however, questions arise regarding whether a particular statute does indeed make amounts available for obligation and expenditure—that is, whether the statute makes an appropriation. The starting point for any analysis to answer such a question is 31 U.S.C. § 1301(d), which provides:

“A law may be construed to make an appropriation out of the Treasury or to authorize making a contract for the payment of money in excess of an appropriation only if the law specifically states that an appropriation is made or that such a contract may be made.”

Thus, the rule is that the making of an appropriation must be expressly stated. An appropriation cannot be inferred or made by implication. E.g., 50 Comp. Gen. 863 (1971).

Regular annual and supplemental appropriation acts present no problems in this respect as they will be apparent on their face. They, as required by 1 U.S.C. § 105, bear the title “An Act making appropriations . . . .” Other statutes that are not regular annual or supplemental appropriations acts may also explicitly state that they make an appropriation. See, e.g.,

31 U.S.C. § 1304(a) (“necessary amounts are appropriated to pay final judgments, awards, compromise settlements”); 31 U.S.C. § 1324 (“necessary amounts are appropriated to the Secretary of Treasury for refunding internal revenue collections”); B-321823, Dec. 6, 2011.

Though the making of an appropriation must be expressly stated, a statute need not use the word “appropriation.” If the statute contains a specific direction to pay and a designation of the funds to be used, such as a direction to make a specified payment or class of payments “out of any money in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated,” then this amounts to an appropriation. 63 Comp. Gen. 331 (1984); 13 Comp. Gen. 77 (1933). See also 34 Comp. Gen. 590 (1955).

For example, a private relief act that directs the Secretary of the Treasury to pay, out of any money in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, a specified sum of money to a named individual constitutes an appropriation. 23 Comp. Dec. 167, 170 (1916). Another example involved a statute that authorized the Secretary of the Treasury to reimburse local fire departments or districts for costs incurred in fighting fires on federal property. B-160998, Apr. 13, 1978. Since the statute directed the Secretary to make payments “from any moneys in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated” (i.e., it contained both the specific direction to pay and a designation of the funds to be used), the Comptroller General concluded that section 11 constituted a permanent indefinite appropriation.