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Congress and the Establishment of a National Budget System in the United States during the Progressive Era

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 March 2023

Washington, DC


In order to establish a new national budget system during the Progressive Era, Congress had to overcome an earlier convention in which it used detailed appropriations in an attempt to control the budgetary actions of federal agencies and the president served no formal role. Incremental changes to strengthen congressional budgetary controls proved inadequate but provided reformers with an opportunity to supplant the existing orthodoxy, resulting in the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921. Although most studies have focused on the Act in terms of its effects on presidential power and presidential/congressional relations, this study focuses on congressional actions and debates to show how reform was rooted in long-standing congressional concerns about the need to control agency budgetary actions and was understood at the time as a culmination of those efforts, not simply as a case of Congress enhancing presidential power at its own expense.

© Donald Critchlow and Cambridge University Press, 2023

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An earlier version of this paper was prepared for the 2019 meeting of the Southern Political Science Association. Mr. Saturno is employed as a Specialist on Congress and the Legislative Process at the Congressional Research Service. The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and are not presented as those of the Congressional Research Service or the Library of Congress. His affiliation with Congressional Research Service is noted here solely for purposes of identification.



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