Congress Votes to Reauthorize Administrative Conference of the United States

The House voted July 14 to reauthorize the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS) by accepting an earlier Senate-passed bill. The bill now moves to the White House, where President Bush is expected to sign the legislation. ACUS was a small government agency, abolished in 1995, that advised Congress on reforms to administrative and regulatory processes and saved the government millions of dollars over its life.

ACUS was created in 1968 as an independent agency with a small staff assisted by outside experts in administrative law, government processes, judicial review and enforcement, and agency regulatory processes. The conference had a reputation for producing high-quality, independent, nonpartisan analysis and is credited with issuing more than 200 recommendations, many of which were implemented, as well as a variety of reports and studies on how to improve government.

ACUS was dismantled in 1995 as part of the new Republican agenda to reduce the size of government. At the time, the ACUS staff numbered approximately 20, and its budget was about $1.8 million, according to a July 16 article in BNA (subscription). Although estimates of the savings achieved from implementing ACUS recommendations are not well documented, at the time the agency was abolished, there were estimates that some recommendations saved millions of dollars from just a few program improvements.

Congress initially reauthorized ACUS in 2004 but failed to appropriate any funding for the conference to reorganize and begin work. That authorization expired in September 2007. The current reauthorization effort began in 2007, when Rep. Chris Cannon (R-UT) introduced H.R. 3564. The bill passed the House on Oct. 22, 2007, but the Senate did not take any action on the bill until June of 2008.

According to the BNA article, the bill "also enjoyed bipartisan support in the Senate where it was pushed by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), the Judiciary Committee's ranking member." Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) introduced an amendment to the House bill that extended authorization of appropriations for FY 2009 through FY 2011. The amendment was accepted by the Senate on June 27 and sent back to the House, which gave its approval a few weeks later.

The bill that is headed to the White House authorizes appropriations of $3.2 million each year. BNA reports that Cannon and Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA), one of the co-sponsors of the bill, are trying to secure appropriations in this Congress. Cannon was the chair of the Commercial and Administrative Law Subcommittee of the House Committee on the Judiciary in the 109th Congress; Sanchez is the current chair.

However, current disagreements in Congress between the political parties and between Congress and the White House put the ACUS appropriations at risk, even with widespread bipartisan support for the agency. Few appropriations bills are expected to be passed in the House and the Senate. The result of the appropriations process this election year is likely to be a continuing resolution to keep government operating until a new president takes office. An alternative might be to extend the continuing resolution for the entire fiscal year, giving the new president and a new Congress room to begin the next budget year's fiscal cycle. Although any continuing resolution could contain the necessary appropriations language to fund ACUS, especially given its broad support, Congress may seek to fund only ongoing government activities.

The recommendations developed by ACUS during the years it operated are available online at Florida State University's College of Law ABA Administrative Procedure Database.

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