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Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

Congressional Budget Justifications (CBJs) are hard to find and here’s why

I’ve been very impressed with the research and thought that goes into the First Branch Forecast, the weekly newsletter focusing on transparency and governance issues being considered by Congress. There’s always something of interest in the newsletter, so I highly recommend that everyone subscribe.

One item of interest in a recent Forecast was about Congressional Budget Justifications (CBJs). In my work as a research librarian, Federal budget analysis, information and data are frequent requests as the Congressional appropriations process is about as clear as mud to most people – and I also *highly* recommend bookmarking the regularly updated CRS report “The Congressional Appropriations Process: An Introduction” to better understand the kabuki-like procedural elements that go into this process. So the FBF research into CBJs offers both insight into and problems with the budget process and access to the information and data that go into this annual rite. I’ll let them explain in detail, but please read the entire post and don’t forget to subscribe to the newsletter.

Congressional Budget Justifications (CBJs) are plain-language explanations of how an agency proposes to spend money it requests that Congress appropriate, but how easy is it for congressional staff and citizens to find these documents? Demand Progress surveyed 456 federal agencies and entities for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 and found:

7.5 percent of the 173 agencies with congressional liaisons, i.e., 13 agencies, published their CBJs online for only FY 2018 or FY 2019, but not both. (Agencies with congressional liaison offices routinely interact with Congress). If you exclude subordinate agencies whose reports traditionally are included in a superior agency’s reports, that figure becomes 3.3 percent, or 5 agencies, out of 152 agencies published a CBJ for FY 2018 or 2019. The failure of one agency to publish their report impacts a number of sub-agencies. Among the agencies/entities inconsistent in their reporting is the Executive Office of the President, which houses the Office of Management and Budget, the National Security Council, and the Office of the Vice President.

via Feds Lag in Publishing Funding Requests – First Branch Forecast.

Tax bill’s automatic spending cuts would decimate GPO along w many critical programs

I was struck by the data visualization in today’s NY Times UpShot column which showed just how much impact the “tax cut” bill would have on government services across the federal government for at least the next 10 years! “If Congress passes its tax bill and then takes no other action, the funding for dozens of federal spending programs could be cut — in many cases to nothing — beginning next year.”

Of course the biggest bubble/cut would occur to Medicare, with a sequesterable amount of $25.5 billion for 2018. As I scrolled down to the table listing the 228 agencies and programs which would be cut in 2018, the 4th one down is GPO’s Business Operations Revolving Fund, which could be cut $2 million in 2018, with cuts for 10 years. $2 million doesn’t sound like a lot of money, but GPO only requested $8,540,000 for the revolving fund for FY18. That’s a 25% cut! The revolving fund pays for improvements to GPO’s FDsys (and its successor system, govinfo) as well as other essential IT projects and things like enhancing the cybersecurity of GPO’s IT systems and other necessary physical infrastructure projects.

GPO is already working with a shrinking number of employees and a bare bones budget which has been flat or cut over the last 10 years. GPO programs — including the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP)! — can NOT be sustained if this “tax cut” bill is passed.

With passage of this “tax cut” bill, GPO’s demise is no longer hypothetical. What will FDLP libraries do in that case? Does GPO have a formal succession plan or escrow arrangements (key components of a Trusted Digital Repository audit!)? And what will FDLP libraries do to maintain critical access to and preservation of government information going forward?

We need EVERY librarian to contact their representatives early and often and let them know what devastating effects this “tax cut” bill will have — on libraries yes, but on so many critical programs from Medicare to flood insurance, farm security, meals on wheels, Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, and so many other programs across the Federal government.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the deficit increase from the tax bill would be large enough — $1.5 trillion over 10 years — that spending for the unprotected programs would be reduced to zero next year and nearly zero over the next nine years.

Each bubble above represents the size of an automatic budget cut that could take place next year.

The Statutory Pay-as-You-Go Act of 2010, or Paygo, is an Obama-era update of a rule first enacted under President George H.W. Bush. It requires that legislation that adds to the federal deficit be paid for with spending cuts, increases in revenue or other offsets.

via The Tax Bill’s Automatic Spending Cuts – The New York Times.

The “orderly shutdown” of NEH and 18 other agencies

It looks like University of North Texas’ Cyber cemetery is going to be busy this year, with National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) set to shut down and 18 other agencies targeted by the Trump administration for elimination. For a deeper look into Trump’s budget — and what’s getting cut! — see this recent Washington Post piece.

Since its creation in 1965, NEH has established a significant record of achievement through its grantmaking programs. Over these five decades, NEH has awarded more than $5.3 billion for humanities projects through more than 63,000 grants. That public investment has led to the creation of books, films, and museum exhibits, and to ensuring the preservation of significant cultural resources around the country. 

NEH grants have reached every part of the country and provided humanities programs and experiences to benefit all of our citizens. Hundreds of veterans leaving the military service and beginning to pursue an education have benefited from the Warrior-Scholar program, a boot camp for success in the college classroom. Students, teachers, and historians have access to the papers of President George Washington. NEH On the Road circulates traveling versions of major exhibitions to rural towns and small cities all over the map from Greenville, South Carolina, to Red Cloud, Nebraska, and beyond. Through these projects and thousands of others, the National Endowment for the Humanities has inspired and preserved what is best in American culture.

via NEH Statement on Proposed FY 2018 Budget | National Endowment for the Humanities.

Treasury.IO: A daily data feed for the U.S. Treasury

Ever wonder about the federal government’s checkbook? Well now you can take a peak inside for each day using Treasury.io. “Every day at 4pm, the United States Treasury publishes data tables summarizing the cash spending, deposits, and borrowing of the federal government.” Those data tables “catalog all the money taken in that day from taxes, the programs, and how much debt the government took out.”

One hitch: The Treasury’s data tables are (subjectively) ugly and (objectively) spreadsheet-unfriendly. So Treasury.io — an open-source civic project complete with a github repository! — continuously converts the files into good ol’ tabular data. You can download individual tables as CSVs, get the whole dataset as a big SQLite database, or query the API. There’s also a data dictionary and a Twitter bot.

HT to Jeremy Singer-Vine and his amazing Data Is Plural weekly newsletter of useful/curious datasets. If you haven’t subscribed, then you ought to go over there right now and do so post haste!

Every day at 4pm, the United States Treasury publishes data tables summarizing the cash spending, deposits, and borrowing of the Federal government. These files catalog all the money taken in that day from taxes, the programs, and how much debt the government took out to make it happen. It comes from a section of the U.S. Treasury called the Bureau of the Fiscal Service.

At a time of record fiscal deficits and continual debates over spending, taxation, and the debt, this daily accounting of our government’s main checking account is an essential data point that the public should have ready access to.

via Treasury IO: A daily data feed for the U.S. Treasury.

APDU’s public letter in support of Federal statistical programs

I was so glad to see that the Association of Public Data users (APDU) just sent a letter in support of federal statistical agencies to the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. This letter has well over 700 signatories (including FGI!) from organizations including the National Association for Business Economists and the NAACP and individuals such as Katherine Wallman and Dean Baker. This is a critical time for federal statistics with funding for ALL federal programs seemingly on the chopping blocks. Keep the pressure on your representatives by calling and/or writing to them to save — and better fund! — federal statistical programs!

We are concerned that a lack of appreciation for the critical importance of our Federal statistical and data systems may worsen, and are worried that, after years of insufficient funding, these systems face deeper funding cuts and further marginalization. Our nation, economy, businesses and citizens rely on the nonpartisan, gold-standard data provided by several agencies, including the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, National Center for Education Statistics, the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, the Energy Information Administration, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the Economic Research Service, the National Agricultural Statistics Service, the Internal Revenue Service Statistics of Income, the Social Security Administration Office of Research, Evaluation, and Statistics, and the National Center for Health Statistics.

These data resources benefit individual citizens who seek information to:

  • guide their career and education choices,
  • gain a clearer sense of wages and benefits on offer for different careers,
  • choose a community in which to live.

Our Democracy relies on Federal data for:

  • Apportionment — population count determines allocation of legislative seats by
    geography,
  • Redistricting — state legislatures use population counts and characteristics to determine
    legislative boundaries,
  • Voting and civil rights — Congress and the Supreme Court explicitly rely on data to ensure compliance with voting and civil rights laws.

Federal data resources help the public sector to:

  • evaluate programs
  • support evidence-based decision-making,
  • project tax collections and craft budgets,
  • guide fiscal and monetary policy,
  • target limited resources,
  • design policy and programs, such as in housing, health, education and training, economic development, transportation, and criminal justice,
  • index many benefits and tax brackets to inflation,
  • work with local businesses when making investments.

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