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  1. Home
  2. Anti-Deficiency



The salient features of this Act are prohibitions against authorizing or incurring obligations or expenditures in excess of amounts apportioned by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) or in excess of amounts permitted by agency regulations; and establishment of procedures for determining the responsibility for violations and for reporting violations to the President through OMB and to the Congress.

General Information

The concept of Federal Appropriations law is framed by three major fiscal limitations: purpose, time, and amount.  In essence, an agency may obligate and expend appropriations only for a proper purpose, within the time limits applicable to the appropriation (e.g., O&M funds are available for obligation for one fiscal year), and an agency may not obligate more than the amount appropriated by Congress. The Anti-deficiency topic generally falls under the "amount" limitation.  Anti-deficiency is defined in the Anti-deficiency Act (ADA), Title 31, US Code, Sections 1341 and 1517, and states that executive agencies and their subordinates cannot:


  1. Obligate more funds than are made available to them in an appropriation or in a formal subdivision of funds (allocation, allotment, sub-allotment, or other formal designation of a limitation).
  2. Make obligations that exceed the amount permitted by agency actions/regulations.
  3. Obligate funds in advance of receiving an appropriation or allotment.


The law also requires that the head of each agency establish an administrative control system to ensure obligations are kept within appropriated levels, and enable the agency to fix responsibility for violations. Unintentional violations can result in reassignment or suspension without pay; intentional violations can result in a fine and imprisonment. Responsibility for Anti-deficiency Act violations is usually fixed at the highest level that knew about or should have known about the violation.


Examples of violations of Sections 1341 and 1517 follow:


  1. Actions, including clerical recordings or reporting errors, which result in an over-obligation or over-expenditure of funds in any appropriation.
  2. An official involves the government in a contract or obligation either in advance of appropriations or without adequate funding authority.
  3. Attempts to avoid an over-obligation or over-expenditure by failure to post to accounting records, by delay in posting until funds are received, by not properly charging the appropriated fund, or by transferring charges or funds between accounts. Whether an over-obligation or over-expenditure had actually occurred in the above circumstances would depend upon the results of corrective actions.


An Anti-deficiency Act violation could also result from voluntary services.  Title 31, US Code, Sec 1342, "Limitation on voluntary services", states that:

(1) An officer or employee of the United States Government or of the District of Columbia government may not accept voluntary services for either government or employ personal services exceeding that authorized by law except for emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property.

(A) This section does not apply to a corporation getting amounts to make loans (except paid in capital amounts) without legal liability of the United States Government.

(B) As used in this section, the term “emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property” does not include ongoing, regular functions of government, the suspension of which would not imminently threaten the safety of human life or the protection of property.  


Another type of potential Anti-deficiency Act violation is the augmentation of funds, wherein a Federal agency supplements its appropriations from outside sources without specific statutory authority. This augmentation prohibition rule is derived from several enactments of Congress rather than a specific statute. As explained in the Government Accountability Office (GAO) Red Book, “the objective of the rule against augmentation is to prevent a government agency from undercutting the congressional power of the purse by circuitously exceeding the amount Congress has appropriated for that activity.” In addition, Title 31, US Code, Section 1301(a), states that “appropriations shall be applied only to the objects for which the appropriations were made except as otherwise provided by law.”


Agencies that violate the Anti-Deficiency Act must report to the President and Congress all relevant facts and a statement of actions taken. Agencies must also transmit a copy of each report to the Comptroller General on the same date the report is transmitted to the President and Congress.