Current Services Estimates

The term current services estimates means the projection of current law policies into the future. This assumes no change in law or policy, to the best ability of those preparing this “baseline”. This provides a reference point to which changes in policies, or particular legislation, may be measured.

Section 1109 of Title 31 of the U.S. Code (Current Services Requirement)

Current Programs and Activities Estimates

Federal law requires the President to submit to Congress a “current services estimates” budget as it is defined by that section. Though this baseline is required before the general budget submission, the President has ignored this legal requirement since it was amended to its present date in 1990. This estimate is now transmitted to Congress not by the January 3 of each year, but instead with the policy budget required the first week in February. 

Sec. 1109. Current programs and activities estimates

(a) On or before the first Monday after January 3 of each year (on or before February 5 in 1986), the President shall submit to both Houses of Congress the estimated budget outlays and proposed budget authority that would be included in the budget for the following fiscal year if programs and activities of the United States Government were carried on during that year at the same level as the current fiscal year without a change in policy. The President shall state the estimated budget outlays and proposed budget authority by function and subfunction under the classifications in the budget summary table under the heading “Budget Authority and Outlays by Function and Agency”, by major programs in each function, and by agency. The President also shall include a statement of the economic and program assumptions on which those budget outlays and budget authority are based, including inflation, real economic growth, and unemployment rates, program caseloads, and pay increases.

(b) The Joint Economic Committee shall review the estimated budget outlays and proposed budget authority and submit an economic evaluation of the budget outlays and budget authority to the Committees on the Budget of both Houses before March 1 of each year.

CBO Testimony Before the Joint Economic Committee (December 1975)

Current Services Estimates (CBO Testimony)

The purpose and uses of current services budget estimates

The primary purpose of current services estimates is to provide a baseline or basic reference point for consideration of discretionary changes in the budget. The baseline that most often has been used is last year’s budget level. Thus, a common question in any budget hearing, whether conducted in the Executive Branch or in the Congress, is “What did you get last year?”

[Statement by Dr. Alice M. Rivlin Director, Congressional Budget Office before the Joint Economic Committee December 3, 1975.]

GAO Glossary of Terms and Definition (September 2005)

Current Services Estimates (GAO)

Estimates submitted by the President of the levels of budget authority and outlays for the ensuing fiscal year based on the continuation of existing levels of service. These estimates reflect the anticipated costs of continuing federal programs and activities at present levels without policy changes. Such estimates ignore all new presidential or congressional initiatives, including reductions or increases that are not yet law.

With the proposed budget each year, the President must transmit current services estimates and the economic assumptions upon which they are based. Updated current services estimates are also included in the Mid-Session Review of the President’s budget, but are not identified by that title and are confined to those programs that are essentially automatic (that is, they exclude programs controlled through annual appropriations). The current services data in the Mid-Session Review are identified as being for “mandatory and related programs under current law.”

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) also prepares similar estimates. For a more detailed discussion of this term, see “Current Services Estimates” in the Analytical Perspectives of the President’s budget. (See also Baseline; Multiyear Budget Planning.)

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Current Services Budget: A section of the President’s budget, required by the Budget Act, that sets forth the level of spending or taxes that would occur if existing programs and policies were continued unchanged through the fiscal year and beyond, with all programs adjusted for inflation so that existing levels of activity are maintained. (See Baseline.)

[The Congressional Budget Process: An Explanation, Appendix J (Glossary), Committee on the Budget of the U.S. Senate, S. Prt. 105-67 (Revised December 1998).]


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