Going Right to the Source: JACKPOT!

So I’ve been looking at the data over at usgovernmentspending.com. I was trying to figure out where they get their data. At first I found this explanation:

Federal spending between 1962 and 2012 is obtained from a spreadsheet file Table 3.2 – Outlays by Function and Subfunction: 1962-2010 in Budget of the United States Government: Historical Tables Fiscal Year 2008 published by the Executive Office of the President of the United States. It contains actual historical federal government spending from 1962 to 2006, and budgeted and estimated spending from 2007 through 2010.

Eventually I found that data it was talking about. You goto the GPO budget page, then I click on my favorite budget year. I’m then taken to a page with a log of document links. I scroll to the bottom and click the link: Historical Tables.

At that point I can download speadsheet 3.2 (Outlays by Function and Subfunction: 1962–2015) Voila! I have a list of all government spending by billing code.

This info was pretty good. I could now look at the info without relying on a third party website that can apply their own spin. For example, USSpending has a “welfare” item. However, the federal budget doesn’t list that. The categories are spread between Health, Housing, Education, training, employment, and social services.

Unfortunately, the information is still at a pretty high level. I noticed that the info on usgovernmentspending.com had more detail. That’s when I found an additional explanation. Federal Spending at the Agency Code Level:

IF YOU DRILL down below the federal subfunction level you can see federal spending at the agency code level. This spending information is obtained from Outlays, an Excel spreadsheet (4.5MB) that contains federal spending numbers classified by department, bureau, and agency code for FY 1962 through FY 2008. There are about 4,000 line items at the agency code level. The file can be downloaded from Budget of the United States Government: Public Budget Database Fiscal Year 2008 in xls, csv, or zip format. Only spending line items in excess of $0.05 billion are displayed at usgovernmentspending.com.

Holy Crap now that sounds exactly like what I’m looking for. I went back to the GPO budget page, and clicked on fiscal year 2011. This time instead of clicking Historical Tables, I clicked Public Budget Database. What I found was a 4700 line excel sheet with every budget code that the U.S. has used since 1962. Every dollar that’s been spent has been charged to one of these line items.


This is exactly what I’ve been looking for. The data is pretty raw, but that’s ok. Instead of being sorted by type of spending it’s sorted by Agency then “Bureau” then account name then subfunction. It even has a column saying whether it’s mandatory or discretionary(guess that search is done).

Well it’s taken me more than a week to get to this point, but I can finally start unraveling the mysteries of the U.S. budget.

Look! Actual Numbers!

I am temporarily setting aside my quest for a full list of mandated spending measures. Instead I started looking at solid numbers – which was the my original intent anyhow.

When it comes to just getting straight numbers, this website is where it’s at. It’s called U.S. Government Spending. As I’ve noted before the guy who runs leans to the right – politically. However, it’s hard to argue with hard numbers, so I’ll trust them until I have reason to believe otherwise.

This page here, let’s me see the actual money spent in 2009 down to the most granular level I’ve seen yet. For instance, I can see that in 2009 we spent 3.3 billion in aviation security. I can also see that we spend 300 million$ on digital to analogue tv converter program.

Eventually, I’d like to see if I can get even more specific information. However, this is quite the mother load of federal spending info. This is pretty good for now. I think I’ll study these numbers for a while. I’d like to know what each of the budget lines refers to. For instance, the difference between the “Rental Assistance Program” and the “Tenant Based Assistance Program” and why they exist.

Other Websites with U.S. Spending Data

In addition to the government websites I found yesterday, I’ve also found several private sites that contain data about government spending.

usgovernmentspending.com is the best put together site I’ve seen. Their chart system really give you a chance to see things on the Macro level. However, it’s not exactly a non-partisan or bi-partisan effort. It’s run by Christopher Chantrill, who has a definite right-leaning tilt. This means I’ll want to make sure his numbers or presentations aren’t somehow spun to the right.

The Heritage Foundation, another right-leaning organization, has a lot of budget numbers and charts.

The Cato Institute has a lot of studies about federal spending. Like the Heritage foundation though, it is a right-leaning organization so will have to watch their analysis for spin.

Here’s a site that seems pretty non-partisan: Fed Spending, but by their own admission, they seem to admit that the government site USAspending.gov is better:

In Sept. 2006, President Bush signed into law the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act (S. 2590), which was co-sponsored by Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Barack Obama (D-IL). The new law mandates that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) create and maintain a searchable public database of all federal spending, not unlike FedSpending.org. In fact, OMB built the government website using the FedSpending.org software platform as a foundation. OMB launched the government site at USASpending.gov in December of 2007. Because both sites utilize the FedSpending.org software, the search functions and look and feel of the two website are very similar.

There are differences though. The government website has broadened the scope of information and is required to cover all federal spending, while FedSpending.org is limited to information contained within the FPDS and FAADS government databases (See here for data that is not included on FedSpending.org). The government website also is more timely because the new law requires that data be updated every 30 days. (FedSpending.org will only be updated every six months.) The government website will also be expanded by 2009 to include subcontracts and subgrants data.

About.com has a nice page about the budget. I think I can use that not only for numbers, but as a primer to understanding the numbers.

Also found a blog that seems to have a pretty good handle on federal spending: http://usbudget.blogspot.com/

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is a treasure trove of numbers and analysis. It holds the distinction of being the only left-leaning organization that studies the budget. Therefore, just like the right-leaning organizations, I will have to be careful not to fall for the spin and, instead, just look at the numbers only.

I found dozens upon dozens of other websites and blogs that talk about the budget, but these sites and the government sites I found yesterday seem to have real actual number andor information I need to understand the budget. The rest either don’t publish the numbers, or if they do, they’re just a rehash of other places. In any case, I think I have plenty of information sources to get me started.

Government Websites with Federal Spending Data

Being that it’s the federal government that I want to find out about, I figure that the federal government is the place to start to try and find information. As it turns out, there are several government websites that contain data about Federal Spending. Here is what I’ve found so far.

The Office of Management and Budget. This website is controlled by the whitehouse and it’s political team. so while I’m sure that the information is accurate, I’m also sure that there will be spin in the way it’s reported.

Here’s another helpful site. The Government Printing Office has a page for the U.S. Budget. Being a non-partisan agency of the Legislative branch, I think it’s pretty trustworthy.

Finally, the Congressional Budget Office has to be the mother load of online information about how the United States spends it’s money. There’s charts, raw numbers, and even projections. This too is a non-partisan agency of the Legislative branch.

Check this out: USAspending.gov While it looks like it’s supposed to be more of an accountability website, the data in it might prove useful to me.