Element: Obligation

Thank you for contributing your feedback on this data element—your input and insight was helpful as we worked to finalize the standards. Please go here to see the data definitions for these elements in their final form.

Data Element Name Legislation
Obligation DATA Act

Background

The DATA Act requires reporting of obligations from each appropriations account, for each program activity, for each object class, and for each program activity and object class. A key financial measure in all Federal financial reporting, obligations are published in the President’s Budget by program activity and by object class; OMB’s SF 133 Report on Budget Execution and Budgetary Resources (SF 133); and, in other government-wide publications.

Context

A term in Federal budgeting and financial management, obligation in layman’s terms means a binding agreement that will result in outlays, immediately or in the future. For example, an agency incurs an obligation when it enters into an agreement to purchase goods or services. The agency pays the provider upon receipt of the goods or services; in Federal budgeting and financial management, that payment is an outlay. There are many actions that trigger obligations; these include procurements, awarding grants, compensating Federal workers, and making social security payments.

The term “obligated amount” is sometimes used within the Federal government and outside the government; the term has the same meaning as obligation. The term “obligation(s) incurred” also has the same meaning as obligation.

Obligation and other financial data elements are defined in OMB Circular A-11. The definitions for all financial data elements typically appear in Section 20, Terms and Concepts, and Appendix F, Format of SF132, SF 133, Schedule P and SBR.

The Treasury Department publishes a cross walk showing all Standard General Ledger accounts (used in agency financial systems) that crosswalk to each line in OMB’s SF 133 Report on Budget Execution and Budgetary Resources. The crosswalk appears in the Treasury Financial Manual Volume I Part 2 Supplement, Section V: Crosswalks to Standard External Reports for Fiscal 2015 Reporting.

Recommended Data Element Name Recommended Definition
Obligation Obligation means a legally binding agreement that will result in outlays, immediately or in the future. When you place an order, sign a contract, award a grant, purchase a service, or take other actions that require the Government to make payments to the public or from one Government account to another, you incur an obligation. It is a violation of the Antideficiency Act (31 U.S.C. 1341(a)) to involve the Federal Government in a contract or obligation for payment of money before an appropriation is made, unless authorized by law. This means you cannot incur obligations in a vacuum; you incur an obligation against budget authority in a Treasury account that belongs to your agency. It is a violation of the Antideficiency Act to incur an obligation in an amount greater than the amount available in the Treasury account that is available. This means that the account must have budget authority sufficient to cover the total of such obligations at the time the obligation is incurred. In addition, the obligation you incur must conform to other applicable provisions of law, and you must be able to support the amounts reported by the documentary evidence required by 31 U.S.C. 1501. Moreover, you are required to maintain certifications and records showing that the amounts have been obligated (31 U.S.C. 1108). Additional detail is provided in Circular A‐11.

References

OMB Circular A-11, Section 20, Terms and Concepts and Appendix F, Format of SF132, SF133, Schedule P, and SBR.

Treasury Financial Manual supplement United States Government Standard General Ledger, Part 2 Fiscal 2015 Reporting, Section V: Crosswalks to Standard External Reports for Fiscal 2015 Reporting. Page v-123, Line 2190, Obligations Incurred.