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What is the Antideficiency Act?

The Federal Law That Mandates Government Shutdowns

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Updated September 20, 2013

The Antideficiency Act of 1870 is the law that requires federal agencies to cease operations, except in emergency situations, when the president and Congress fail to reach an agreement on funding measures.

The Antideficiency Act is the law that mandates government shutdowns when federal agencies and programs lack appropriated funding. Since 1981, there have been five government shutdowns, the longest of which lasted 21 days, from December 16, 1995, to January 6, 1996.

What the Antideficiency Act Says

The relevant portion of the Antideficiency Act reads:

"An officer or employee of the United States Government or of the District of Columbia government may not -

"(A) make or authorize an expenditure or obligation exceeding an amount available in an appropriation or fund for the expenditure or obligation . . ."

The Antideficiency Act prohibits federal officials from obligating funds before an appropriations measure has been enacted.

See Also: The Federal Budget Process

In other words, according to the Government Accountability Office: "Government officials may not make payments or commit the United States to make payments at some future time for goods or services unless there is enough money in the 'bank' to cover the cost in full. The 'bank,' of course, is the available appropriation."

There are exceptions for "emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property."

Penalties for Violating the Antideficiency Act

When someone violates the Antideficiency Act the law requires the the agency head to "report immediately to the President and Congress all relevant facts and a statement of actions taken."

An officer of employee who violates the Antideficiency Act can face administrative penalties including "suspension from duty without pay or removal from office."

In addition, an officer or employee who "knowingly and willfully" violates any of the law's provisions can face punishments of up to $5,000 in fines and two years in prison, according to the GAO.

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