GLOSSARY OF TERMS
Choose one of the categories below to narrow your choiceLegislation and Programs
Administrative Procedures Act (APA)
Law enacted in 1946 that governs how federal agencies propose and enact regulations.
It applies to both executive departments and independent agencies.
Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH)
2015 regulation requiring cities to report affordable housing data to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), in order to decrease racial segregation in housing.
A computer tool - the Local Government Assessment Tool - was developed to help cities determine how well they are meeting required goals.
Click here for more information on the rule - including a copy of it.Referenced by...
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
1990 law prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities.
It requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabliities.
Law enacted in 1906 allowing the president to designate national monuments on land controlled by the federal government.
When a president designates land as national monument, new uses of the land (such as mining, drilling, logging, and ranching) are prohibited. However, if those activities already had been taking place, they likely would be able to continue.
Actions aimed at preventing monopolies.
For more, read the Center for Effective Government description.
CISPA: Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act
A bill passed by the House of Representatives in both 2012 and 2013, which would allow companies to share personal information about their customers (or website users) with the government, while also allowing the government to share that information with other companies. Read our discussion of the bill.
Civil Rights Act
A series of federal laws to prohibit most forms of discrimination based on a person's skin color, religion, or national origin.
There were were several Civil Rights Acts over various years...
o The 1957 Civil Rights Act
o The 1964 Civil Rights Act
o The 1968 Civil Rights Act
Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA)
For more details, read this Ballotpedia description.
Clean Water Act (CWA)
1972 law that authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set pollution control standards for the nation's waters.
It originated from the 1948 Federal Water Pollution Control Act.
Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF)
A federal-state partnership that provides communities low-cost financing for water quality infrastructure.
2014 Obama administration program to grant clemency to people convicted of nonviolent crimes who received much longer sentences than they would have had they been sentenced under more recent laws.
For more, visit the Office of the Pardon Attorney website.
Congressional Accountability Act (CAA)
1995 law that requires Congressional offices to provide the same employment and workplace protections that are required in rest of the federal government and in the private sector.
It created the Office of Compliance to administer the protections.
Click here for more information about the Congressional Accountability Act.
Congressional Review Act
1996 law that allows Congress to nullify a new rule from a federal agency.
Under the law, agencies must submit any new rule to Congress before the rule can take effect. Congress then has up to 60 days to pass a joint resolution to prevent the rule from taking effect. The resolution can only nullify the entire rule - it cannot modify just part of it.
The resolution is not subject to a filibuster. However, the presidential approval is required (if the president vetoes the resolution, the veto may be overridden by Congress).
If the rule is successfully nullified, the administration would not be allowed to issue a new one that is substantially the same.
The act is part of the 1996 Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act, which in turn is part of the 1996 Contract With America Advancement Act.
Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)
Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)
The 1998 law designed to protect copyrights on digital media. Among other things, the DMCA made it illegal to circumvent copy protection mechanisms built into electronics - a provision that has since been interpreted very broadly.
For more, read our discussion of the DMCA.
A bill (versions of which have been introduced in recent Congressional terms) that would amend the 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) to provide for increased disclosure of political campaign spending and fight the use of dark-money.
The name of the DISCLOSE Act is an acronym for Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections.
Do Not Call Registry
A list maintained by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) of phone numbers that telemarketing organizations should not call.
Anyone can add their phone number to the list. Most legitimate companies respect the list and do not call these numbers. If you have added your number to the list and you receive a telemarketing call, it most likely is a scam.
For more information about the do not call registry or how to handle scam phone calls, visit www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0108-national-do-not-call-registry.
To add your phone number to the registry, visit www.donotcall.gov.
Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF)
An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) program to provide financial assistance to states to help them provide safe drinking water.
It was established in 1996 as an amendment to the 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).
Due Process / Equal Protection
A key provision in the Constitution that protects people from arbitrary acts by the government.
The Fifth Amendment states...
"...nor shall any person ...be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law..."
The Fourteenth Amendment extends that to state governments, adding that protections must be the same for every person...
"...nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. ..."
Emergency Extended Benefits (EB)
Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA)
Acronym for the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, a 1974 law that helped ensure that retirees from a company would be able to receive the full pension promised them.
For more, read our discussion of the law.
Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA)
Legislation that would make it illegal for an employer to discriminate against someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
For more, see our discussion of this issue.
Energy Independence and Security Act
2007 law with the stated purpose of moving the country...
"toward greater energy independence and security, to increase the production of clean renewable fuels, to protect consumers, to increase the efficiency of products, buildings, and vehicles, to promote research on and deploy greenhouse gas capture and storage options, and to improve the energy performance of the Federal Government.”
It focused on...
Click here for details about the law.Referenced by...
Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA)
1974 law making it illegal for a creditor to discriminate against credit applications based on rac, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, or age.
The ECOA is Title V of HR-11221 - a larger bill to regulate banking.
Click here to read the ECOA (page 1521).Referenced by...
Ethics in Government Act
1978 law that....
Click here to read our discussion of the bill.
Fair Housing Act
1968 law that prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin.
Other protections were added later...
The law is Section VIII of the 1968 Civil Rights Act.Referenced by...
Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
The Federal law which sets certain standards for working conditions, including...
Click here to read more about the FLSA.Referenced by...
Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces
A 2014 Executive Order by President Barack Obama that federal contractors who do more that $500,000 of business with the government disclose any labor law violations against them in the prior 3 years. Violations would not preclude the contractor from getting hired - but the information would be used in the determination.
A 2010 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found violations of environmental, wage, and safety laws in several companies that had large government contracts.
Just before the order was set to take effect in 2016, it was put on hold by a federal judge in Texas.
In March 2017, President Donald Trump signed a bill revoking the rules.
Click here to read the GAO report identifying violations by federal contractors.
Click here to read the executive order.
Click here to read rules from federal agencies to implement the executive order.
Legislation that is the primary way the federal government influences issues under the purview of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), such as agriculture and food policy.
The first farm bill was passed in 1938. It typically is renewed every five years.
Federal Alcohol Administration Act
Federal Arbitration Act (FAA)
Law enacted in 1925 that makes arbitration clauses enforceable in most contracts that contain one.
Click here to read the law.Referenced by...
Federal Reserve Dividend
A bank wanting to be a national bank (which would exempt it from state usury laws) must become part of the Federal Reserve.
In order to do that, they must buy stock (i.e. partial ownership) in Federal Reserve district banks. These stocks are effectively risk free since the Federal Reserve's debts are backed by the U.S. government. The bank cannot sell or trade these stocks. However, they receive a dividend on the stock. The dividend rate currently is 6 percent (it hasn't changed in more than a century).
Federal Vacancies Reform Act (FVRA)
1998 law that dictates how the president is fill the vacancy for heads of executive agencies that require Senate confirmation.
It is part of the 1999 Omnibus Consolidated and Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act.
Click here to read the Federal Vacancies Reform Act.Referenced by...
Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA)
For more details, read the GovTrack description of the law.
Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA)
1977 law enacted to prevent American companies from bribing foreign government officials in order to do business with them.
Click here for details of the bill.
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) requires that companies with more than 50 employees provide health care coverage that includes contraception.
EBSA Form 700 is a form that religious nonprofit organizations can submit to their health insurance companies that allows the organization to refuse to provide certain forms of contraceptives to employees. The insurance company then would be required to provide these contraceptives to covered employees at no cost to the organization (or to employees).
Three days after the Supreme Court ruled in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that the form was an acceptable alternative to requiring retailer Hobby Lobby to provide disputed contraceptives, the court issued a temporary injunction against requiring Wheaton College from having to fill out the form.
In Wheaton College v. Burwell, the religious college in Illinois claimed that filing the form with its insurance company made it complicit in providing the contraceptives. Until the court issues a final ruling, the school merely needs to send a letter notifying the government of its position.
It is unclear whether a letter without Form 700 can compel an insurance company to offer the contraceptives at its expense.
Click here to view the form.
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
Originally a 1944 law (the Servicemen's Readjustment Act) to provide benefits to returning World War 2 veterans such as education and housing.
The 1984 Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) changed the education benefits. To become eligible for benefits, service members optionally pay $100 a month in their first year of service ($1,200 total). In exchange, they can receive a monthly stipend to attend college (or a vocational school) after leaving the military.
In 2008, President George W. Bush signed the Post-9/11 GI Bill. It generally provides more generous financial benefits to veterans and does not require any contribution. However, it has more restrictions than the Montgomery GI Bill (for example it cannot be used to pay for a vocational school).
For an explanation of the differences between the two GI Bills, read this Inside Higher Ed article.
Global Change Research Act (GCRA)
1990 law that directs the administration to research Climate Change.
It created the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), and tasked the program with reporting to Congress every 4 years on various impacts of climate change.
Click here for more on the law.
1939 law that regulates partisan political activities of federal employees.
The Hatch Act originally prohibited most federal employees from engaging in political activity. The president and vice president are excluded from the law.
It was amended in 1993 as the civil service had became more merit-based than political, and laws had been enacted to protect employees against coercion and retaliation. Most employees now are allowed to participate in political activities when not at work. They cannot use government money for any of these activities.
The law has been further clarified as the work versus free time line has become blurred in recent years, with people using mobile phones at work and doing work from home.
For more, read the Congressional Research Service report.Referenced by...
A federal program that provides pre-school to children in low-income families.
You can found out more at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
A rule of the House of Representatives allowing any representative to propose cutting any federal program or reducing any federal employee's salary to as little as $1.
The mechanism to do so would be propose an amendment to an appropriations bill. This means that even though it would require both House and Senate approval, it could avoid a filibuster in the Senate due to the budget reconciliation process.
Rep. William Holman proposed the rule in 1876 as a way to combat a system in which government jobs were given to supporters and family members of the winning party. That system was replaced by the 1882 Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act, though the Holman rule had intermittently remained in the House rules until 1983.
In 1946, the Supreme Court ruled an attempt to invoke the Holman rule unconstitutional.
For more, read the article in The Nation.
1937 law that authorized the federal government to subsidize local housing agencies to improve the conditions of low-income families.
It created the agencies merged into the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in 1965.
In 1974, Section 8 of the act was amended by the Housing and Community Development Act to create Section 8 housing.
It also is referred to as the Wagner-Steagall Act.
Conditions attached to bills appropriating money for health care that prohibit the use of federal money to pay for abortions.
Most typically, the Hyde Amendment is used in bills that appropriate money for Medicaid.
It has taken several forms since first being introduced by former Rep. Henry Hyde in 1976. In its current form it allows federal money to be used for abortions only in the case where the mother's life is at risk, or where the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest.
Here is sample text of a Hyde Amendment from the 2014 budget bill...
Impoundment Control Act (ICA)
1974 law that defines the procedures a president must follow to reduce or delay funding decisions enacted by Congress.
There is no penalty defined for violating the ICA. The only remedy is for Government Accountability Office (GAO) to sue an administration to release the money.
The act also created the House and Senate Budget Committees and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
Click here for more on the act.
Inspector General Act (IG Act)
Law first enacted in 1978 to allow inspectors general to function solely for the purpose of maintaining government integrity.
It requires inspectors general to be appointed without regard to political affiliation.
Though a president is allowed to remove an inspector general, the law was amended in 2008 to require that Congress be given notice 30 days in advance.
For more, read the Congressional Research Service report.
A set of laws enacted in 1807 that allows the president to deploy troops to put down domestic insurrections.
International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA)
1954 law that prohibits tax-exempt organizations such as churches and charities from supporting (or opposing) political candidates.
It is named after then Sen. Lyndon Johnson, who introduced the amendment.
For more, read the New York Times story.Referenced by...
Jury Selection and Service Act
1968 law that defined the selection process for federal juries.
Among its provisions, it prohibits the exclusion of potential jurors "on account of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or economic status."
You can find more information about the law on GovTrack.com.
A law established in 1799 making it illegal for a U.S. citizen to negotiate policy with foreign governments without authorization.
The law reads...
Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.
This section shall not abridge the right of a citizen to apply, himself or his agent, to any foreign government or the agents thereof for redress of any injury which he may have sustained from such government or any of its agents or subjects.
Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program
Law enacted in 1910 making it a felony to cross a state line with "any woman or girl for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose."
It has since been amended to change the purposes to prostitution or illegal sexual acts.
Military Lending Act
A series of laws intended to protect members of the Armed Forces from predatory lending practices.
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006 required the Department of Defense (DoD) to compile a report on predatory lending practices against members of the Armed Forces and their families, as well as their affects on service members. It also required the DoD to present a strategy to protect service members (including education) from predatory lending.
The Military Lending Act is Subtitle I (Consumer Protection Matters), Sec. 579 of the bill.
The John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007 instilled actual protections for service members, including a maximum interest rate, the ability to sue a lender in court, and other significant protections.
Expanded protections and the types of loans covered - including credit cards.
National Change-of-Address (NCOA)
National Climate Assessment
You can learn more about the National Climate Assessment at the federal government's climate information website.Referenced by...
National Consumer Assistance Plan
An agreement announced in March, 2015 between the three major credit reporting agencies to make credit reports more accurate and help consumers correct errors in their credit information.
National Do Not Call Registry
A list of phone numbers that telemarketers are not allowed to call. It was implemented in 2004 as a result of the 2003 Do-Not-Call Registry Bill.
Even if you register your phone number, some calls still are permitted...
The list is primarily for residential landline phones. Companies are not permitted to call mobile phones (though you still may add a mobile phone number to the list). Once you add your phone number to the list, it will remain there until you remove it or no longer have that phone number.
To add your phone number to the National Do Not Call Registry (or to register a complaint), visit www.DoNotCall.gov.
To learn more about the National Do Not Call Registry, read this Federal Trade Commission article.
National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)
1970 law that requires federal agencies to assess the environmental impacts of their proposed actions.
They must prepare environmental assessments (EA) and environmental impact statements (EIS) - stating the potential environmental effects.
It created the President's Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).
NEPA does not apply to the President, Congress, or the federal courts.
For more about how NEPA works, visit www.epa.gov/nepa/what-national-environmental-policy-act.
Click here for details about the bill.
National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)Referenced by...
National School Lunch Program
A federal program that reimburses public and non-profit private schools for providing nutritionally balanced meals to children.
Children from families with incomes less than 130 percent of the federal poverty level can receive free lunches. Those from families with slightly higher incomes can receive lunch for approximately a half-dollar.
For more, visit www.fns.usda.gov/nslp/national-school-lunch-program-nslp.
National Voter Registration Act (NVRA)
1993 law making it easier to register to vote.
Click here to read our discussion of the law.
New Swine Slaughter Inspection System (NSIS)
Name given (originally meant to be derogatory) for the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
ObamaCare: State Innovation (Section 1332) Waiver
Part of ObamaCare that allows states to opt out of some of the law's requirements provided they can provide coverage for residents that is at least as good.
In order for a state to waive any requirements, coverage must be "at least as comprehensive" as coverage offered through the state's insurance exchanges, and cannot make insurance or health care unaffordable for a substantial number of residents. It also cannot increase the federal deficit.
Requirements that may be waived include...
For more, read the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explanation.
Occupational Safety and Health Act
1970 law enacted to provide a safe workplace environment for workers. It created the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Click here for more details on the bill.
A law that establishes a U.S. territory or an agency to manage federal lands.
Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA)
1953 law the defines U.S. coastal waters and their management.
You can read more about the law at the the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management website.
Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA)
2010 law that allows millions of previously uninsured Americans to obtain health care coverage. Many were unable to afford insurance, many could not obtain coverage due to an existing illness. This law is often referred to as ObamaCare.
Click here to read our discussion of the bill.
Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)
Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act
1882 law that created the Civil Service System and prohibited government jobs from being dependent on political support.
Click here for our discussion.
Physician Payments Sunshine Act (PPSA)
A section (6002) of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) requiring drug and health care device makers to disclose money or gifts they provide to health care providers.
Health care providers also are required to disclose any ownership interests they have in these companies.
Posse Comitatus Act
Posse Comitatus is Latin for power of a country, and is the principle that the military should not act as a domestic police force.
The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 explicitly outlaws any use of the Army or Air Force (and implicitly the Navy and Marines) to enforce laws unless expressly authorized by the Constitution or Congress.
One such authorization is the 1807 Insurrection Act.
For more, read the Congressional Research Service report.Referenced by...
A program of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) that analyzes animal viruses having the ability to infect humans and cause a pandemic.
Viruses researched by PREDICT include HIV and those that cause Ebola, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
Click here for more about the PREDICT program.Referenced by...
Presidential Protection Assistance Act
1976 law that established who must be protected by the Secret Service.
It also provides for accountability of spending involved in its protective responsibility.
Click here for details about the bill.
Presidential Records Act (PRA)
1978 law that governs presidential and vice presidential official records created or received after Jan. 20, 1981. It changed the official records of the president to be public records.
For more, read the National Archives description.
Regulatory Right-to-Know Act
Click here to read the law.
1973 law to make workplaces more accessible to those with disabilities.
Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)
Click here for more information on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.Referenced by...
Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)
1974 law that authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set standards for drinking water from public water systems.
It does not cover private wells or bottled water.
2002 law enacted to prevent companies from providing fraudulent information to investors.
Click here to read or discussion of the law.
Sherman Antitrust Act
Law passed in 1890 that prohibits monopolies from from being created by unfair business practices.Referenced by...
Generally used as the term for the federal program known as the Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) program. It provides guaranteed payments for retirees, the disabled, and certain survivors.
It's a type of program referred to as an entitlement.
It's paid for by a separate tax on salaries...
These taxes are imposed only on the first $117,000 of income (in 2014). In other words, if you earn less that that, you pay the tax on your entire income. If you earn more, then you pay tax only on that amount.
For more, visit www.SocialSecurity.gov.
Social Security Number
A nine-digit number that identifies you to the U.S. government.
Social Security numbers originally were intended to merely identify you to the Social Security Administration, but now are used to identify you to the government for everything from taxes to background checks.
They also are used by private businesses, such as insurance and credit card companies and banks.
In many cases when dealing with companies on the phone, you will be asked for "the last four digits of your social" in order to confirm your identity.
As the uses of Social Security numbers have become more widespread, the number of potential targets has increased for those trying to steal them for identity theft.
Social Security Trust Fund
Financial accounts used to pay Social Security benefits.
There are two separate trust funds...
Click here for more information.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
A government program that helps make food affordable to those with very low incomes.
This program formerly was known as Food Stamps.
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
1970 addition to the 1944 Public Health Service Act that funds family-planning and other preventive health services for low-income individuals.
Click here for more information about the law.
USDA Food Plans
Plans developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that estimate the cost of a nutritious diet.
They specify the types and amounts of food developed for various price points:
Thrifty Food Plan (TFP)
The Thrifty Food Plan represents the cost for a family of four to buy groceries. It is designed to meet the nutritional needs of an average person consuming a healthy, cost-conscious diet at home. It is made up of foods such as dark green vegetables, poultry, and fruit. This cost determines the maximum Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit for a houshold of four people.
Other plans are used to determine amounts for child support and foster care payments.
Low-Cost Food Plan
This plan often is used by bankruptcy courts to determine the portion of a bankrupt person's income that should be allocated for food.
Moderate-Cost Food Plan
Liberal Food Plan
Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS)
A government database that tracks possible adverse reactions to vaccines in order to serve as an early warning system to potential dangers.
Anyone can report a reaction to VAERS they believe to be associated with a vaccine. VAERS stores these reports in a database, which is viewable to the public (without personally-indentifying information).
VAERS does not attempt to determine the actual cause of any reported reaction. Therefore, a report to VAERS does not mean the reaction was caused by a vaccine.
Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)
This act is Title IV of the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act.
It funds investigations and prosecutions of violent crimes against women. It requires those convicted to provide restitution to the victim.
It allowed victims to sue their attackers in federal court. In 2000, that provision was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in United States v. Morrison.
The law was reauthorized in 2000, 2005, and 2013.
Voting Rights Act
1965 law that prohibits racial discrimination in voting.
Main provisions include...
For more, read our discussion of the law.Referenced by...
Whistleblower Protection Act
Law that protects federal whistleblowers from retaliation by their employer.
There are two Whistleblower Protection Acts:
For more, read the Lawfare description.Referenced by...
Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC)