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CRS – How Treasury Issues Debt

How Treasury Issues Debt, Updated June 14, 2022 [21 pages]: “The U.S. Department of the Treasury (Treasury), among other roles, manages the country’s debt. The primary objective of Treasury’s debt management strategy is to finance the government’s borrowing needs at the lowest cost over time. To accomplish this Treasury adheres to three principles: (1) to issue debt in a regular and predictable pattern, (2) to provide transparency in the decision making process, and (3) to seek continuous improvements in the auction process. Within the Treasury, the Office of Debt Management (ODM) makes all decisions related to debt issuance and the management of the United States debt portfolio. When federal spending exceeds revenues, the ODM directs the Bureau of the Fiscal Service to borrow the funds needed to finance government operations by selling securities to the public and government agencies through an auction process. The Bureau of the Fiscal Service manages the operational aspects of the issuance of Treasury securities, including the systems related to and the monitoring of security auctions. During the mid-1970s, Treasury faced a period of rising nominal federal budget deficits and debt requiring unanticipated increases in issuances of securities. Up to that point, debt management was characterized by an ad-hoc, offering-by-offering survey of market participants. At that time, Treasury implemented a new debt management strategy that provided greater transparency and reduced the potential for market volatility. The resulting debt management process modernized the market for Treasury securities, realizing the benefits of predictability in an environment of large deficits. A reliance on auctions became a central part of the strategy’s increased focus on regular and predictable debt management.Most of the debt sold by the federal government is marketable, meaning that it can be resold on the secondary market. Currently, Treasury offers five types of marketable securities: Treasury bills, notes, bonds, inflation protected securities (TIPS), and floating rate notes (FRNs), sold in about 300 auctions per year. A small portion of debt held by the public and nearly all intragovernmental debt (debt held by government trust funds) is nonmarketable. Investors examine several key factors when deciding whether they should purchase Treasury securities, including price, expected return, and risk. Treasury securities provide a known stream of income and offer greater liquidity than other types of fixed-income securities. Because they are also backed by the full faith and credit of the United States, they are often seen as one of the safest investments available, though investors are not totally immune from losses. Security prices are determined by investors according to the value of such characteristics in the context of the financial marketplace. Legislative activity can affect Treasury’s ability to issue debt and can impact the budget process. Congress sets a statutory limit on the permissible amount of federal debt to assert its constitutional prerogatives to control spending and impose a form of fiscal accountability. The statutory limit on the debt can constrain debt operations, and, in the past, has hampered traditional practices when the limit was approached. The accounting of asset purchases in the federal budget has created differences between how much debt Treasury has to borrow to make those purchases and how much the same purchases will impact the budget deficit. If budget deficits continue to rise, thereby causing more resources to be devoted to paying interest on the debt, there will be fewer funds available to spend on other federal programs, all else equal.”

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