Research Reports

Thoughts on Agility Through Appropriations

October 2022

AUTHOR:  Philip S. Antón

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) seeks sufficient funds from the U.S. Congress to meet critical national security missions. However, predicting, budgeting, authorizing, and appropriating the type and amount of needed funding can be challenging, especially when threats and technologies are changing faster than Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Execution (PPBE) process timelines, which run over two years given that the DoD starts planning 19 months before the programming and budgeting stage begins. Threats and needs can even change after budgets are authorized and appropriated by Congress and reprogramming of those funds are limited. 

 Federal funds are budgeted and appropriated into types—such as research, development, test, and evaluation (RDT&E); procurement; and operation and maintenance (O&M). These so-called “colors of money” constrain the purpose for which the appropriation is made (i.e., how the funds can be used). These appropriation types also have life cycles—periods of time within which the funds can be obligated (ranging from 1–5 years, by type) and expended (normally 1–10 years, by type). Within each appropriation type, there are usually budget activities (BAs) that further characterize and constrain how the funds can be used. 

 In response to recommendations from numerous reports, studies, and DoD Programs, and with Congressional approval, the DoD created a Budget Activity (BA) 8 Pilot to experiment with a single (“colorless”) appropriation to seamlessly use funds for what would otherwise be RDT&E, procurement, and O&M of software programs. This paper hypothesizes different approaches related to budgeting and appropriating to improve defense acquisition given inherent DoD and Congressional equities.