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[Excerpt] The Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995 (UMRA) established requirements for enacting certain legislation and issuing certain regulations that would impose enforceable duties on state, local, or tribal governments or on the private sector. UMRA refers to obligations imposed by such legislation and regulations as “mandates” (either “intergovernmental” or “private sector,” depending on the entities affected). The direct cost to affected entities of meeting these obligations are referred to as “mandate costs,” and when the federal government does not provide funding to cover these costs, the mandate is termed “unfunded.”

UMRA incorporates numerous definitions, exclusions, and exceptions that specify what forms and types of mandates are subject to its requirements, termed “covered mandates.” Covered mandates do not include many federal actions with potentially significant financial impacts on nonfederal entities. This report’s primary purpose is to describe the kinds of legislative and regulatory provisions that are subject to UMRA’s requirements, and, on this basis, to assess UMRA’s impact on federal mandates. The report also examines debates that occurred, both before and since UMRA’s enactment, concerning what kinds of provisions UMRA ought to cover, and considers the implications of experience under UMRA for possible future revisions of its scope of coverage.

This report also describes the requirements UMRA imposes on congressional and agency actions to establish covered mandates. For most legislation and regulations covered by UMRA, these requirements are only informational. For reported legislation that would impose covered mandates on the intergovernmental or private sectors, UMRA requires the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to provide an estimate of mandate costs. Similarly, for regulations that would impose covered mandates on the intergovernmental or private sectors, UMRA requires that the issuing agency provide an estimate of mandate costs (although the specifics of the estimates required for legislation and for regulations differ somewhat). Also, solely for legislation that would impose covered intergovernmental mandates, UMRA establishes a point of order in each house of Congress through which the chamber can decline to consider the legislation. This report examines UMRA’s implementation, focusing on the respective requirements for mandate cost estimates on legislation and regulations, and on the point of order procedure for legislation proposing unfunded intergovernmental mandates.


Suggested Citation
Dilger, R. J., & Beth, R. S. (2013). Unfunded Mandates Reform Act: History, impact, and issues. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.