Cyclopedia of Congressional Budget Law


The term impoundment means action by the President which has the effect of suspending the obligation of appropriated funds.

See A Brief History of Impoundment for additional information.

GAO Glossary of Terms and Definition (September 2005)


Any action or inaction by an officer or employee of the federal government that precludes obligation or expenditure of budget authority. There are two types of impoundments: deferrals and proposed rescissions. Not all delays in obligating funds are deferrals. Sometimes obligation delays are due to legitimate programmatic reasons or the result of outside forces not under the agency’s control; for example, an agency administering a grant program receives no grant applications so no grants can be made. (See also Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974Deferral of Budget AuthorityRescission.)

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Congressional Budget Process: An Explanation (Senate Budget Committee)

Definition of Impoundment (Senate Budget Committee)

Impoundment: A generic term referring to any action or inaction by an officer or employee of the U.S. Government that precludes the obligation or expenditure of budget authority in the manner intended by Congress. (See Deferral of budget Authority; Rescission of Budget Authority.)

[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).]

Definition of Impoundment (CRS)

Impoundment includes any executive action to withhold or delay the spending of appropriated funds. One useful distinction among impoundment actions, which received statutory recognition in the 1974 Impoundment Control Act, focuses on duration: whether the President’s intent is permanent cancellation of the funds in question (rescission) or merely a temporary delay in availability (deferral).

Another useful contrast distinguishes presidential deferrals for routine administrative reasons from deferrals for policy purposes. Virtually all Presidents have impounded funds in a routine manner as an exercise of executive discretion to accomplish efficiency in management. The creation of budgetary reserves as a part of the apportionment process required by the Antideficiency Acts (31 U.S.C. 1511-1519) provided formal structure for such routine impoundments, which originated with an administrative regulation issued in 1921 by the Bureau of the Budget and then received a statutory base in 1950. Impoundments for policy reasons, such as opposition to a particular program or a general desire to reduce spending, whether short-term or permanent, have proved far more controversial.

Item Veto and Expanded Impoundment Proposals – History and Current Status, Report for Congress RL33635 (Congressional Research Service, June 18, 2010), pp. 1–2.