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Key Federal Legislation, Policy and Appropriations​


In August 2011, Congress passed the Budget Control Act, which sought to put a framework in place for reaching a high-level agreement on overall federal spending and deficit reduction. The Budget Control Act (BCA) raised the debt ceiling; set caps on discretionary spending for FY12 and FY13 at levels almost $1 trillion lower than FY10; and established the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. Known as the Super Committee, it was tasked with recommending at least $1.2 trillion in reductions from federal spending by November 23, 2011, which would have to be passed into law by December 23, 2011.

The Super Committee did not reach agreement on a plan to recommend to the full Congress, triggering across the board cuts to nearly all defense and non-defense discretionary spending programs (essentially all government functions except the entitlement programs of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security). With no congressional action to divert the sequester, it went into effect with passage of the FY13 appropriations bills.

NCJA joined a large coalition of stakeholder organizations with interest in the discretionary (rather than the entitlement) portion of the budget, including health, education, environment, foreign aid, anti-poverty programs, science, research, and many other policy areas. These groups came together to educate Congress about the magnitude of the cuts that had already been taken from discretionary spending in the FY11 and FY12 funding cycles and the impact of future cuts. The FY13 appropriations cycle was completed when Congress passed an omnibus spending bill on March 26, 2013, Non-defense discretionary spending, including the justice assistance programs, was cut by 5 percent from the level passed in the FY13 bills. Most of the cuts required of the Department of Justice came at the expense of the grant programs.

The Budget Control Act set out limits on federal spending through FY2021 so, unless amended or repealed by Congress, the sequester would force a reduction in funding by roughly equivalent amounts every year through FY21. This level of reduction proved too difficult to sustain and in FY14 and FY16, Congress passed budget agreements adjusting or suspending the discretionary spending limits required by the BCA. The sequester is scheduled to return in FY18 unless Congress passes a bill suspending it again.

NCJA/VERA Institute Survey on Impact of Reduction in Federal Funding

NCJA, in partnership with the Vera Institute of Justice, conducted its second annual survey in the summer of 2013 to better understand the impact to the field of cuts to the federal justice assistance grant programs enacted since FY10. A total of 1,226 organizations responded to the survey, the majority representing state and local criminal justice system agencies.

More than three-quarters (78 percent) of respondents reported that their grant funding has decreased since FY10. Almost half (43 percent) of reported cuts were between 11 and 25 percent with another 17 percent reporting cuts from 26 percent to 50 percent. In addition, two-thirds (66 percent) of all respondents reported a reduction in their organization’s workforce. Two-thirds also reported having to curtail the services they provide in their communities. Respondents also reported instituting hiring and salary freezes and employee furloughs.

Respondents also were asked to put into words how this withdrawal of federal support has affected their ability to serve their communities. Many of theirs answers describe in vivid language how cuts in one area ripple through the entire criminal justice system.

Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Sign-On Letter to Congress

The law enforcement and prosecution community was invited to sign onto a letter to Congress urging that a future deficit reduction deal not rely on additional cuts to non-defense discretionary spending, particularly the DOJ justice assistance grant programs.

The broad criminal justice and public safety community was invited to sign onto a letter to Congress urging that any deficit reduction plan be balanced and not include further cuts to non-defense discretionary spending, particularly the DOJ justice assistance grant programs.

These letters are available in our stakeholder letters archives.

NCJA/VERA Institute Sequestration Webinar

In November, 2012, NCJA and the Vera Institute hosted a webinar entitled, Sequestration 101: What it is and What it Means for Future Funding. Participants heard from experts about sequestration – what it is; what it means for federal justice assistance funding; what Congress may do to avoid the “fiscal cliff;” and, what policymakers in DC need to know about how these future cuts will impact your work.

Presenting were Shai Akabas, Senior Policy Analyst with the Bipartisan Policy Center, who is an expert on federal budget matters, having served as staff for the Domenici-Rivlin Debt Reduction Task Force; Kathryn Schubert, Vice President with CRD Associates, who helps coordinate the work of the Non-Defense Discretionary Summit, the broad-based group of stakeholder interests working to raise awareness about the cuts in funding expected under sequestration; Elizabeth Pyke, NCJA’s Director of Government Affairs, who is helping to coordinate the criminal justice community’s work on sequestration; and Christine Leonard, the then-Director of the Vera Institute of Justice’s Washington DC office, who was representing the public safety community on the NDD Steering Committee.

OMB Report on Sequestration

In response to legislation enacted by Congress, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) produced a report in September 2012 that estimated the cuts to federal programs.

Resources on Sequestration and Fiscal Cliff:

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