The Medicare program accounts for around 14 percent of the entire federal budget, but you wouldn’t know it from USAspending.gov.
USAspending.gov is a website that’s supposed to make government spending transparent. But if you use it to investigate how much the government spent on Medicare benefits last year, you’ll find a surprising number: zero. That’s not a reporting error; there are many such problems in USAspending.gov, and it’s a sign of opaque government. In 2012 Washington actually spent more than $500 billion on Medicare. Citizens should have access to that information – both because health care costs are a major budgetary challenge affecting all Americans and because we deserve to know how our taxes are spent.
And that’s our mission at National Priorities Project. We’re working to make the federal budget more accessible so Americans of all walks of life can understand and influence where their tax dollars go. To that end we maintain the Federal Priorities Database, a resource that features federal spending down to the county level – so you can see the local impact of federal dollars invested in programs ranging from Medicare and Social Security to Head Start, school lunches, and Title I grants for disadvantaged public schools. The federal government even applauded our work recently, citing the Federal Priorities Database as an important use of government data.
But we can’t do our job unless government officials do theirs. The Federal Priorities Database is only as good as the data that federal agencies report – and right now that data is not very good. That’s why we have to choose as a nation to invest in government transparency. NPP supports the DATA Act (short for the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act), legislation that would mandate standardized and complete reporting by federal agencies. When citizens want to know how much their government is spending on any given program, contract, or salary, the answer should be at their fingertips.