The Congressional Budget Office

Honest Numbers, Power, and Policymaking

Philip G. Joyce

"Essential of those studying public administration and congressional politics and worth a read by all others in political science."
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Created in 1974, the U.S. Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has become one of the most influential forces in national policymaking. A critical component of our system of checks and balances, the CBO has given Congress the analytical capacity to challenge the president on budget issues while it protects the public interest, providing honest numbers about Congress's own budget proposals. The book discusses the CBO’s role in larger budget policy and the more narrow "scoring" of individual legislation, such as its role in the 2009–2010 Obama health care reform. It also describes how the first director, Alice Rivlin, and seven successors managed to create and sustain a nonpartisan, highly credible agency in the middle of one of the most partisan institutions imaginable.

The Congressional Budget Office: Honest Numbers, Power, and Policy draws on interviews with high-level participants in the budget debates of the last 35 years to tell the story of the CBO. A combination of political history, economic history, and organizational development, The Congressional Budget Office offers an important, first book-length history of this influential agency.

Table of Contents

1. Truth, Power, and Consequences

2. Organizing for Nonpartisan Analysis

3. Macrobudgeting

4. Microbudgeting

5. Policy Analysis

6. Clinton Health Plan: Bringing It All Together

7. Obama Health Care Reform

8. An Excellent Skunk?



"Public administration scholars will be especially drawn to Joyce’s perspective on the CBO story, which emphasizes its leaders, organizational culture, and the complex role of expertise in a representative democracy. . . . Whether or not one teaches and researches the federal budget, it is a citizenship imperative to be literate in budget politics, policies, and processes. Joyce’s book is an excellent one-stop resource on all of these issues, which together form the core of governance."—Congress & the Presidency

"Essential of those studying public administration and congressional politics and worth a read by all others in political science."—Choice

"The Congressional Budget Office is important reading for those who care about government institutions and their ability to serve the public faithfully."—Jason Juffras, The Public Manager

"Joyce's book is more than an institutional history; it is an analysis of the Congressional Budget Office in the context of two critical issues that have broad applicability. The first is the role of nonpartisan, objective information and analysis in passing legislation, and the second is how an agency manages to develop and maintain a culture to support nonpartisan analysis in a highly partisan environment. Though now an academic, Joyce was an employee of CBO for years, and thus has been able to combine an insider's contacts and knowledge with the critical distance of an academic. The book is well written, touching on many of the key legislative debates over the years. The image of CBO that emerges from this book is the 'little agency that could.'"—Irene Rubin, Northern Illinois University


Supplemental Materials


Winner of the 2012 Outstanding Academic Book of the Year of the Choice Magazine

About the Author

Philip G. Joyce is a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland. He has twelve years of public sector work experience, including five years with the United States Congressional Budget Office, and is a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration.

264 pp., 6 x 9

Apr 2011

264 pp., 6 x 9

ISBN: 978-1-58901-757-3
Apr 2011

264 pp.

ISBN: 978-1-58901-758-0
Apr 2011

American Governance and Public Policy series
Gerard W. Boychuk, Karen Mossberger, and Mark C. Rom, Series Editors

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