• Creating the appearance, if not always the reality, of a sound analytic process.

  • Providing a starting point for the reauthorization process.


Program agencies in the executive branch vary in the latitude Congress gives them to decide on the basic formula to be used, the variables (e.g., population size, tax revenue, per capita income) to be used to represent formula components, and the statistical data series to be used to calculate or estimate their values. Variants differ in the control retained by Congress and the required congressional technical expertise and monitoring:1

  1. Congress specifies program goals and intentions, leaving the program agency to specify the allocation formula.

  2. Congress specifies the formula, and the program agency specifies which variables should be used and which statistics should be used to estimate them.

  3. Congress specifies the formula and variables, and the program agency specifies which statistics are to be used to estimate the variables.

  4. Congress specifies the formula, the variables to be used, and the statistics to be used to estimate the variables.

  5. Congress specifies the numerical allocations without the need for an explicit formula.

Variant (a) allows Congress to delegate all technical issues—to build consensus on a program without resolving the fine details. If the specification of goals and intentions is sufficiently precise, relevant program agencies can use their technical expertise to develop the details. However, if goals are vague or the agency has goals different from Congress, the formula as implemented may be different from what Congress intended.

Relative to variant (a), variant (b) allows Congress to reflect its goals in the specification of the formula, giving it more control over the allocations. Under variant (b), Congress must be able to assess the performance of alternative formulas. Still, if there are a variety of ways of defining and estimat-


Examples of the different arrangements are given in Chapter 1, in the section on “Alternative Approaches to Fund Allocation.”

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