Are Appropriators Actually Authorizers in Sheep's Clothing? A Case Study of the Policymaking Role of the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies

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Virginia Tech


In the U.S. Congress, the authorization-appropriation process is the formal model that establishes the separation between legislative and funding bills. Additionally, it determines the jurisdiction of the congressional committees that oversee those bills. However, a number of scholars have concluded that the authorization-appropriations dichotomy is substantially different in practice than the model suggests. Research in this area has shown that broad changes over the years have altered the roles of the authorization and appropriations committees. At different times, members of the appropriations committees have been regarded as guardians of the federal treasury, advocates of federal funds for their congressional district, or partisans in support of a political agenda (Adler, 2000). In addition to these roles, appropriators evidently have become more active in policymaking -- a role that traditionally has been the domain of the authorizing committees.

To further explore the policymaking role of appropriators, this dissertation used a case study approach that traced appropriators' interactions with the executive branch, focusing on a federal agency and its links with the appropriations subcommittees that have oversight and funding jurisdiction over the agency's programs. Specifically, the study analyzed the relationship between the House and Senate Subcommittees on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (L/ HHS) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) during the period from 1989-2009. Through an examination of critical incidents and contextual elements, this dissertation examined whether the Subcommittees on L/HHS increasingly have become significant players in shaping AHRQ's policies and direction. In addition, the dissertation examined the impacts on AHRQ and possible reciprocal [Agency] influences on the Subcommittees. This research has the potential to build on existing works related to the dynamics of the authorization-appropriations process. Moreover, this research could provide a conceptual framework for analyzing the roles that the other congressional appropriations subcommittees play in relation to the executive branch agencies under their jurisdictions.



authorization, congressional committees, policymaking, appropriations, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality