Legislative Branch

Guide to Senate Records: Chapter 3

Records of the Committee on Appropriations

Committee records discussed in this chapter:

History and Jurisdiction

3.1 The Committee on Appropriations was created on March 6, 1867, when the Senate agreed to a resolution offered by Henry B. Anthony of Rhode Island that proposed such a committee in order "to divide the onerous labors of the Finance Committee with another...."

3.2 Appropriating Federal funds, in tandem with raising revenue, is one of the basic constitutional responsibilities of the Congress. All bills raising revenue and many appropriation bills originate in the House of Representatives, but the Senate has used its power to amend money bills to initiate its own fiscal programs.

refer to caption

This untitled illustration by cartoonist Clifford Berryman, which appeared in the Washington Post on December 18, 1904, depicts Uncle Sam dressed as Santa Claus, while three petitioners all request additional appropriations for a new district building. RG 46, Records of the U.S. Senate, Berryman Political Cartoon Collection, National Archives.

3.3 Appropriation bills for the first 14 Congresses were referred to select committees that expired after they issued reports. Usually a single general appropriation bill for the operation of the Government was passed, although in a few instances appropriations for specific purposes, some even specifying the source of revenue to pay for the appropriation, were approved. In December 1816, 11 standing legislative committees, including the Committee on Finance, were created. The Senate Finance Committee was responsible for reporting both revenue and appropriation bills until the 40th Congress, when the Senate decided—partly because the Civil War brought on $1 billion in expenditures for 1865 and over $100 million in interest on the national debt, and partly for partisan reasons—to assign appropriation bills to the new Committee on Appropriations. The Finance Committee continued to deal with revenue.

3.4 Between 1867 and 1968, the Senate Appropriations Committee's power over expenditures fluctuated. Control of executive agency expenditures was a constant problem for Congress. In 1870, the Anti-Deficiency Act was passed, which provided that agencies could not expend more money than was provided by Congress. While this act is considered to be a legislative landmark, the Attorney General's interpretation of the law nullified much of its intent.

3.5 The committee grew in both size and power until 1899, when the Senate rules were modified to transfer jurisdiction of many appropriation bills to the appropriate legislative committees. Following this rule change, the Appropriations Committee retained control of only deficiency, diplomatic and consular, District of Columbia, fortifications, legislative, and sundry civil appropriation bills.

3.6 Between 1900 and 1921, Congress, and the Appropriations Committee in particular, grappled with such problems as unbalanced budgets and "coercive deficiencies," by which an executive agency spent its funds early in the fiscal year and forced Congress to approve its request for a deficiency appropriation or face the shutdown of the agency. Several attempts to reform the system of Government expenditures led to the passage of the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921, which established the Bureau of the Budget and the General Accounting Office, the latter serving as Congress' auditor, totally independent of the executive branch. The following year, the Senate revised its rules relating to the jurisdiction over appropriation bills by reestablishing the authority of the committee over all such bills. The committee then established subcommittees similar to those of the House Appropriations Committee.

3.7 Although the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946 (Public Law 79-601) specified for the first time committee jurisdiction and permitted employment of a professional committee staff, the rules of the Senate with respect to appropriation bills remained largely unchanged until 1950. In that year, all appropriations were consolidated into a single bill, but, owing to its complexity and magnitude, the process was not repeated. A more permanent post-World War II change increased the use of the authorization process by legislative committees and enhanced fiscal controls over executive agencies by defining an upper limit to an agency's or program's appropriation.

3.8 For further information on the history of the committee and the appropriation process in general, see the chapter "Senate Influence in Financial Legislation" in George H. Haynes' The Senate of the United States: Its History and Practice, Volume 1, (Cambridge: 1938), pp. 429-470, and Committee on Appropriations, United States Senate, 100th Anniversary, 1867-1967 (S. Doc. 21, 90th Cong., 1st sess., Serial 12756-1).

3.9 There are two series of records of the Committee on Appropriations for the period before 1947: Committee papers, 1867-1946 (147 ft.); and petitions, memorials, and resolutions of State legislatures referred to the committee, 1867-1946 (8 ft.). The completeness and relative amounts of unprinted material vary greatly, with the most detailed records available for the 40th-47th Congresses and voluminous records for the 68th Congress (33 ft.) and the 77th Congress (48 ft.). The subjects of the records may include virtually all Government operations and programs for which money was appropriated, but for many Congresses the scope of the records is very narrow. Legislative case files for appropriation bills, 1901-46 (57th-79th Congresses), are in the series of papers supporting bills and resolutions, although some records normally found in this series are present in the committee papers of the 57th, 63d, 64th, and 67th Congresses. Another related series, for the 55th Congress (1897-99) only, is the series of bills and amendments originating in the House relating to appropriations (55A-C1).

Back to Top

Records of the Committee on Appropriations, 40th-55th Congresses (1867-1899)

3.10 The committee papers (35 ft.) of the Appropriations Committee vary in subject and form. For the 40th-47th Congresses, this series consists largely of legislative case files on appropriation bills. In addition to copies of the bills and amendments, correspondence and reports from Government agencies and Departments and occasional unattributed memorandums can be found. In general, the legislative case files are arranged either by bill or resolution number or, more commonly, by executive department (e.g., Interior-Indians, Interior-Other, Justice, Navy, Post Office, State, Treasury, War), agency (e.g., Agriculture), or subject (District of Columbia, Executive Mansion, Capitol, private claims, deficiencies). Examples of subjects found under these categories include payments to U.S. consular officials in France and Prussia for expenses related to their official duties during the Franco-Prussian War ("State," 42A-E1), public funding of astronomical observations of the transit of Venus and "new planets" ("Navy," 42A-E1), and payment for use of the Corcoran Gallery of Art building during the Civil War ("Claims," 45A-E2). Appropriation records relating to Indian programs are often arranged by tribe, facilitating their use. There is also a separate category for sundry civil expenses, which combines several subjects and agencies. Under this category, the records include such diverse documents as an incorporation certificate for the Little Sisters of the Poor (43A-E1); a letter from the chairman of the House Select Committee about plans for completing the Washington Monument (43A-E1); and a petition, in the form of a personal letter to Senator Lot Morrill, from the principal artist of the Capitol, Carlo Brumidi (44A-E1). After the 47th Congress, there are comparatively few legislative case files, although several are of potential historical interest. For example, the file on H.R. 11459, 51st Cong., to appropriate money for the purchase of a privately owned collection of Indian copper implements found in Wisconsin, is accompanied by drawings of the implements and related reports by Thomas Wilson and Henry L. Reynolds, curators of the Smithsonian Institution's U.S. National Museum and Bureau of Ethnology, respectively (51A-F2, oversize); the file on H.R. 5575, 53d Cong., to fund an expansion of the main Philadelphia Post Office, includes architectural drawings of the proposed design (53A-F2); and the file for H.R 6249, 54th Cong., an Indian appropriation bill, includes an original hearing transcript, March 19, 1896 (54A-F2).

3.11 The committee papers also include numerous original Presidential messages and executive communications and reports. Most of these are originals of printed House or Senate documents, but some have not been printed, or at least not printed in full. They include a communication on estimates for Navaho Indians that contains as supporting documentation reports of various Indian agents (40A-E1); architectural drawings of new buildings at Fort Apache, Arizona Territory (47A-E1); Presidential messages containing building plans and construction estimates for Fort Leavenworth, KS, and Fort Thornburgh, Utah Territory (47A-E1); and President William McKinley's proposal to expend $600,000 to rebuild part of Ellis Island's immigration station that had been destroyed by fire (55A-F2).

3.12 A few miscellaneous documents in the committee papers do not fall into the categories described above, such as a letter, actually predating the creation of the committee by several weeks, from a former White House houseman seeking additional promised compensation for his services to President Abraham Lincoln (39A-E1); a file on the Stratton Survey of the Pueblo of San Francisco and its impact on the Presidio military facility (46A-E2); and papers relating to Senator John Sherman's investigation into contingent accounts of executive departments (47A-E1).

3.13 The petitions, memorials, and resolutions of State legislatures referred to the committee (3 ft.) concern a wide variety of subjects. As might be expected, the petitioners typically request Federal financial support or increased funding for specific programs, projects, or charitable activities, or personal compensation. Several petitions seek support for national and international expositions, such as the international exposition at Vienna, 1873 (42A-H2); the Colored People's World Exposition in Birmingham, AL, 1887 (49A-H2); the Colored World's Fair Exposition in Atlanta, 1888 (50A-J2); and the Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta, 1895 (53A-J2.1). Others relate to scientific activities, such as exploration of the Alaska coast and observation of a total solar eclipse (40A-H2), construction of an observatory along the highest point of the Pacific Railroad (41A-H2), and appointment of a commission to determine means for destroying grasshoppers (44A-H2). Several petitions express opposition to sectarian (i.e., Catholic) schools on Indian reservations (52A-J2.1, 53A-J2.4, 54A-J2). A few petitions favor increased Federal support for education in Alaska (48A-H2) and the District of Columbia (51A-J2) and aid to charitable or social service institutions, such as the National Association for the Relief of Destitute Colored Women and Children and the Girls Reform School of the District of Columbia (44A-H2). Other petitions relate to appropriations for internal improvements (numerous Congresses) and aid to farmers (47A-H2, 51A-J2, 53A-J2); to specific industries, such as tobacco (48A-H2.1), sugar (53A-J2.3), and salmon fisheries (53A-J2.4); and to individual businesses, e.g., Franklin Rives' request that Congress purchase the stereotype plates and extra copies of the Congressional Globe (44A-H2).

Back to Top

Records of the Committee on Appropriations, 56th-66th Congresses (1899-1921)

refer to caption

Amendment to H.R. 15279, Legislative, Executive, and Judicial FY1915 Appropriations Act (SEN63A-C3). RG 46, Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives.

3.14 The committee papers (6 ft.) consist largely of originals of printed House and Senate documents that can be found in the Congressional Serial Set. For the 56th, 57th, and 64th Congresses, there are a few legislative case files, including amendments, on improvements in the District of Columbia, consular appropriations, and Indian appropriations. Other manuscript records include reports on the transportation of destitute residents of Alaska (56A-F2), a report on extension and renovation plans for the Capitol (57A-F2), papers describing the maintenance of Senate records (60A-F2), a U.S. Navy report on the Nautical Almanac (63A-F2), a report of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on the Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce (63A-F2), a report of the Joint Commission on the Reclassification of Salaries (66A-F2), and numerous reports on the efficiency of Federal departments relating to employee travel and use of office equipment (62A-F2, 66A-F2).

3.15 The petitions, memorials, and resolutions (2 ft.) again pertain to a wide variety of subjects. District of Columbia appropriations (57A-J3, 60A-J9, 61A-J7, 62A-J7, 66A-J2), improvements in Yosemite National Park and national parks in general (59A-J7, 62A-J11, 64A-J11), and salaries of Federal employees (63A-J2, 65A-J9, 66A-J2) are among those appearing most frequently. Other subjects include construction of Agriculture Department buildings on The Mall in Washington, DC (58A-J6), preservation of patent models by the Patent Office (59A-J7), elimination of white slave traffic (62A-J10), construction of a national archives building (64A-J11), and continuation of the U.S. Employment Service Bureau (65A-J8).

Back to Top

Records of the Committee on Appropriations, 67th-79th Congresses (1921-1946)

refer to caption

Page from the Senate Journal for the Second Session of the 77th Congress showing the Vice President's tie-breaking vote on the first supplemental national defense appropriation act of 1943. (SEN 77A-A4). RG 46, Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives.

3.16 The committee papers (106 ft.) are voluminous but most of the volume is due to material retained for the 68th (33 ft.) and 77th (48 ft.) Congresses. For the 68th Congress, 31 feet of detailed reports of the American Relief Administration relate to the distribution of medical supplies throughout Russia after World War I (68A-F2). In 1942, pursuant to S. Res. 223, 77th Cong., and under the chairmanship of Millard E. Tydings, the Subcommittee on Inquiry in Re Transfer of Employees sent questionnaires to Federal agencies to ascertain the number of U.S. Government employees that could be temporarily transferred to national defense agencies to expedite the war effort. The completed questionnaires and others collecting information on the use of photographic and duplicating equipment measure 25 feet. The subcommittee's records are described by National Archives Preliminary Inventory 12, which has an appendix listing the agencies that submitted questionnaires (77A-F2). The committee papers also include a sizable number of reports on operations under the Emergency Relief Appropriations Acts during the New Deal (73A-F2, 74A-F2, 75A-F2, 76A-F2, 77A-F2); lists of employees of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), Federal Works Agency (FWA), and Office of Price Administration (OPA) who were earning over a certain salary per year (76A-F2, 77A-F2, and 78A-F2, respectively); lists of recipients of more than $1,000 under the 1941 agricultural conservation and parity program (78A-F2); and the third and fourth annual reports of the Puerto Rico Hurricane Relief Commission (72A-F2). Other notable records include a small correspondence file of Chairman Francis E. Warren; a report of the Muscle Shoals Committee of the American Farm Bureau Federation on Henry Ford's proposal to operate that facility; a file on S. Res. 213 to amend rules of the Senate concerning referral of appropriation bills (67A-F2); correspondence relating to omission from the census of residents of mental hospitals and opposing a clause in the 1942 independent offices appropriation bill that proposed to prohibit payment of salary to Federal Communication Commission employee Goodwin Watson, a target of Representative Martin Dies, Jr., and the House Un-American Activities Committee (77A-F2); and correspondence (18 in.) of Senator Patrick (Pat) McCarran concerning Army Air Corps reservists, agricultural appropriations, the Central Valley of California, and Nevada matters (78A-F2).

3.17 The petitions, memorials, and resolutions (3 ft.) document public opinion on aid to the German and Austrian Republics after World War I (67A-J6), an increase in appropriation for national defense (68A-J8, 73A-J3), unemployment and drought relief (71A-J13, 72A-J7, 74A-J2), reduction of salaries of Federal employees and balancing the budget (72A-J3, 73A-J4), reduction in veterans benefits (73A-A5), emergency public employment and extension of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) (74A-J2, 75A-J2, 76A-J2, 77A-J2), and the National Youth Administration (NYA) (77A-J2, 78A-J2).

Back to Top

Records of the Committee on Appropriations, 80th-90th Congresses (1947-1968)

3.18 In comparison with other standing committees during this period, the Committee on Appropriations has transferred few records to the National Archives. The records include legislative case files ("accompanying papers"), 1947-58 (17 ft.); Presidential messages and executive communications referred to the committee ("messages, communications, and reports"), 1947-68 (8 ft.); and subject files, 1947-50 (2 ft.).

3.19 Legislative case files, previously part of the series papers supporting specific bills and resolutions, are arranged by bill or resolution number and consist of House-originated bills sent to the Senate for modification or concurrence. In addition to copies of bills and amendments, the files often contain correspondence from Senators, lobbyists, and the public. Committee records for the 80th Congress also contain a small number of hearings transcripts that may not have been published; e.g., an executive session hearing concerning the committee's investigation of commodities speculation. Records in this series from the 86th to 90th Congresses (1959-68) have not been transferred to the National Archives.

3.20 The other series of some size is Presidential messages and executive communications referred to the committee. Included are annual budget messages and reports required by statute or submitted in response to committee requests. For most Congresses, the records include a list of all reports, communications, and petitions referred to the committee. Many of the reports are found in the records of the 82d Congress and consist of copies of Foreign Transactions of the U.S. Government, 1941-52, issued by the Foreign Economic Administration during World War II and by the Department of Commerce Office of Business Economics after 1945. Several of the reports bear security-classification markings.

3.21 A limited subject file (2 ft.) has been retained for the 80th and 81st Congresses. Records in this series concern both administrative and legislative subjects. For the 80th Congress, there are two reports concerning the postwar status of the lend-lease program. For the 81st Congress, the records include a copy of the Strayer report on the District of Columbia school system (1949), various reports and planning documents on highways and bridges in the National Capital area, a subcommittee print on homosexuals and subversive activity in the District of Columbia, and submissions from various Federal agencies on information services they provide. For both Congresses, there are files on subcommittee assignments and personnel matters.

Back to Top

Records of the Committee on Appropriations, 91st Congress- (1969- )

3.22 Records of this committee prior to the 95th Congress (1977-78) are very limited. Since 1977, however, there are substantial records of the full committee and 10 subcommittees: Agriculture, Rural Development, and Related Agencies (27 ft.); Commerce, Justice, and State (64 ft.); Foreign Operations (10 ft.); Housing and Urban Development and Independent Agencies (9 ft.); Intelligence Operations (2 ft., security-classified); Interior (2 ft.); Labor-Health and Human Services-Education (7 ft.); Legislative Branch (7 ft.); Transportation and Related Agencies (5 ft.); and Treasury, Postal Service, and General Government (3 ft.).

Back to Top

Bibliographic note: Web version based on Guide to the Records of the United States Senate at the National Archives, 1789-1989: Bicentennial Edition (Doct. No. 100-42). By Robert W. Coren, Mary Rephlo, David Kepley, and Charles South. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1989.

This Web version is updated from time to time to include records processed since 1989.

Return to the Table of Contents for the Guide to the Records of the U.S. Senate