Supporting Documents: The Earliest Examples of Contract Authority

The following are excerpts from the United States Statutes at Large from the 1920s showing the initial examples of contract authority and related appropriations.

June 19, 1922. The FY 1923 Post Office Appropriations Act created the first-ever contract authority. The law authorized (but did not appropriate) federal-aid highway funding for three fiscal years (1923, 1924, and 1925), but contained language making the first year’s funding available immediately and deeming it “a contractual obligation of the Federal Government:”

January 22, 1923. The annual “deficiency” appropriations act (what we would now call a mid-year supplemental) appropriated the first liquidating cash – allowing the payoff of up to $25 million of the first $50 million in contract authority. The language making that $50 million contract authority was reiterated but refined to put a three-year limit on the Agriculture Secretary’s ability to approve a project.

February 26, 1923. For the next fiscal year, it was the fiscal 1924 Agriculture Appropriations Act that turned the $65 million FY 1924 authorization from the prior year’s law into contract authority. This law also appropriated $29.3 million in liquidating cash to pay off the initial obligations of that $65 million in contract authority.

June 5, 1924. It was once again the Agriculture Appropriations act that contained the magic words to turn the $75 million FY 1925 authorization from the 1922 law into contract authority, and also appropriated $13 million of liquidating cash to pay off part of the FY 1925 contract authority:

February 10, 1925. The annual Agriculture Appropriations act provides liquidating cash for three different years of contract authority ($25 million to finish paying off the first year of contract authority (FY 1923), $35.7 million towards FY 1924, and $15.3 million towards FY 1925). For the first time, the appropriators also started using the liquidating appropriation to pay Bureau of Public Roads salaries and expenses, instead of making their own appropriation.

February 12, 1925. The House Roads Committee and the Senate Post Office and Post Roads Committee get back in the act. They enact a two-year authorization law for 1926 and 1927 that authorizes $75 million per year in funding for the highway program, deems both years to be contract authority, and shifts the apportionment date to January 1 of each year. But, in addition, this pivotal law contains language that deems any future federal-aid highway authorizations “which may hereafter be authorized” to be contract authority, eliminating the need to have that fight on an annual basis.

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