Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Who gets our federal tax money?

Our federal government is huge and consumes 20% of our economy. "What are we buying?" Until recently, getting answers meant slogging through dense, obscure documents. Today, the government is making available more meaningful data, and technology is allowing us to share it in powerful ways. The Transparency Act of 2006 promises a database of federal grants for public scrutiny. Now we have some help: - Google indexes buried federal info. - Plug the Office of Management and Budget's data into IBM's Many Eyes and visualize the federal budget as a Mondrianesque tree diagram. - The president's proposed budget is compact and searchable. Check out the Department of Agriculture which spent $93 billion last year: $47 billion on Food Stamps, School Breakfast, Lunch and milk (the details are in the guts and fine-print Appendix). The Food and Nutrition Administration will spend $149 million and employ 1,194 people to administer the programs in 2008. How about an analysis of what we are getting for what we spend? Performance-based budgeting. The Bush Administration has done a demonstration, call PART. From TCSDaily:
... for the Food Stamps program. It links budgets to program performance. It's deemed "moderately effective" according to OMB. In 2006, 64% of eligible people were served, and the payment error rate was 5.3%. Are diets improving and hunger being reduced? They are not sure. More studies are underway. Through PART, we get a glimpse into Executive budget-making. The Major Savings and Reforms section (PDF) shows what the administration wants to cut and why and you can compare this against a Master List of programs (PDF) in the federal government - there are about 1000.
Eileen Norcross is Senior Research Fellow in the Government Accountability Project at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia. She has even more at TCS Daily.

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