With the President’s budget scheduled for release next week, I’ve grown increasingly interested in how the sausage is made: each agency’s recommendations and justifications, OMB’s clarifications and prioritizations, legislative language, committee actions, implementation reports, and after-the-fact evaluations.
In digging into the issue, I’ve found a mishmash of resources spread throughout the internet (that I’ve compiled here). What has become increasingly apparent is that there is no single place where citizens, journalists, and legislative staff can access information about the budget. Often times, the underlying numbers are locked away in PDFs and budget justifications are available only in obscure locations on government web sites.
Wouldn’t it be great is we could easily compare what was allocated versus what was expended? To see how the numbers changed over time? To find the legislative language, OMB’s short summary of a particular appropriation bill, and the agency’s justification all in one place — right next to a report on how it was actually spent? To be able to translate budget-speak and codes into plain English?
Maybe this already exists, but I haven’t been able to find it. So I have three suggestions:
- Require each agency or department that submits a budget to place all of their budget materials at the URL www.agency.gov/budget.
- Have all federal government budget materials compiled in one place: budget.gov
- Make sure that all data is provided in a downloadable spreadsheet format, replete with common identifiers that allow information to be compared across spreadsheets, and in machine-readable format. Explanatory text should be in machine-readable formats as well, like XML, and not just locked in PDFs.
OMB Circular A-11, which sets forth how the budget should be prepared, submitted, and executed, has a section that regulates communications with the public and Congress. Its real purpose, alas, seems to be preventing communications. Perhaps it should be updated to accomplish the three purposes I identified above.
I welcome any comments or suggestions, particularly if there is a budget resource out there that does what I’ve talked about and was missed in this list of resources.