The term outlays means the amount of spending which are spent by actions taken, such as the issuance of checks, disbursing cash, or other actual payments made. These amounts may be from a variety of obligations, such as an appropriation whereby a government agency is authorized to make legal obligations by Congress, or permanent law, where that agency might have legal authority which is not annual, but may be permanent. Outlays may also be from the authority provided through appropriations made years before and then termed “outlays prior”.
Outlays are important in so far as they are used for determining actual spending, and hence the annual deficit is the net amount that outlays are higher than the receipts collected.
Another important distinction is the scorekeeping treatment of offsetting receipts and collections, which are considered to be negative spending, and so constitute both “negative budget authority” and “negative outlays”.
CBO Definition of Outlays
outlays: The issuance of checks, disbursement of cash, or electronic transfer of funds made to liquidate a federal obligation. Outlays may pay for obligations incurred in a prior fiscal year or in the current year; hence, they flow partly from unexpended balances of prior-year budget authority and partly from budget authority provided for the current year. For most categories of spending, outlays are recorded on a cash accounting basis. However, outlays for interest on debt held by the public are recorded on an accrual accounting basis, as are outlays for direct loans and loan guarantees, which reflect estimated subsidy costs instead of cash transactions.
The issuance of checks, disbursement of cash, or electronic transfer of funds made to liquidate a federal obligation. Outlays also occur when interest on the Treasury debt held by the public accrues and when the government issues bonds, notes, debentures, monetary credits, or other cash-equivalent instruments in order to liquidate obligations. Also, under credit reform, the credit subsidy cost is recorded as an outlay when a direct or guaranteed loan is disbursed. An outlay is not recorded for repayment of debt principal, disbursements to the public by federal credit programs for direct loan obligations and loan guarantee commitments made in fiscal year 1992 or later, disbursements from deposit funds, and refunds of receipts that result from overpayments.
Outlays during a fiscal year may be for payment of obligations incurred in prior years (prior-year obligations) or in the same year. Outlays, therefore, flow in part from unexpended balances of prior-year budgetary resources and in part from budgetary resources provided for the year in which the money is spent.
Outlays are stated both gross and net of offsetting collections. (See Offsetting Collections under Collections.) Total government outlays include outlays of off- budget federal entities. (See also Expenditure; Expense.)
Definition of Outlays
Outlays: Outlays are disbursements by the Federal Treasury in the form of checks or cash. Outlays flow in part from budget authority granted in prior years and in part from budget authority provided for the year in which the disbursements occur.
[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).]