Federal Spending: the Missing Money

Photo by KMC Designs (modified to include U.S. flag only)

Photo by KMC Designs (modified by NPP)

Last week, the Government Accountability and Transparency (GAT) Board was scheduled to solicit public feedback about how people use (or want to use) federal spending data.

Alas, this Washington, DC meeting was cancelled due to snow. But here's some of what we planned to present (and are still planning to present, once the proceedings are rescheduled).

Why Do We Need Federal Spending Data?

NPP uses federal spending data to answer two main types of questions:

  1. Program and geography specific. For example, “Can I see Community Development Block Grants in Detroit?”
  2. State-level big picture.  For example, “Is there a way to see ALL federal dollars going to Massachusetts, and can I compare that to other states?”

What Federal Spending Data Do We Need?

To answer these questions, we need to track four basic ways that federal dollars flow to states and communities:

  1. Grants to state governments and entities. These include federal money for programs like Medicaid, Title I aid to local school districts, and food stamps.
  2. Work contracted by the federal government and performed in a state.
  3. Federal money that goes directly to a state’s residents, like Social Security benefits.
  4. Federal workers in a state who get salary and benefits from the U.S. government.

What Federal Spending Data Do We Have?

USASpending.gov covers grants, contracts, and some benefits that go directly to individuals. However, the website has some well-documented accuracy and completeness issues that often prevent us from using it. For federal salaries and benefits, there’s no place to see them summarized by state.

What’s Next?

We’ll continue advocating for improved transparency of federal spending data (the DATA Act is a good step). In the meantime, we’re launching a project — code-named Fifty Nifty— that will show the flow of federal dollars state-by-state.

How could federal spending data be more useful to you? Let us know in the comments or drop us a line: research@nationalpriorities.org.