In terms of usage in the United States, an authorizations act is a law that orders the creation of a federal agency or program. Generally, the terms included in the authorization act will define the basic purpose and perimeters of operation for the new program or agency. It is not unusual for the act to also include at least some information about how government resources are to be allocated to the new agency or program.
The exact structure of an authorizations act will vary, depending on the purpose for the act. When a new government agency is established by the act, the detail will usually indicate whether the agency is understood to be a temporary entity that will function for a short time, or is anticipated to be an ongoing or permanent agency within the government. If the agency is understood to be temporary, the authorizations act will often include the general time frame for operation.
When the authorizations act orders the creation of a new program, the act will often include information about which agency will oversee the structure and function. If several federal agencies will be involved in the program, they are normally listed in the authorizations act individually. This is often necessary, as the program is likely to be funded by appropriations from each of the participating agencies.
While the authorizations act may only authorize the temporary creation of agencies or programs, it is important to note that the status of the program or agency is always subject to review. If necessary, additional actions by legislators can amend the terms of the act and allow a temporary agency or program to become permanent. At the same time, legislation can be enacted that reverses the status of a permanent program or agency and only authorize continued operation as a temporary entity.
While it is rare for an authorizations act that created a permanent agency to be amended, it is not unusual for an amendment to make a temporary program into a permanent one. Also, an agency created by an authorizations act may at a later date be absorbed into another agency, or combined with existing agencies to form an entirely new government entity.