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This is a guest post from Anthony Holley, a member of the intrepid Hack for Western Mass team that spent the weekend of June 1 trying to track money reported in USASpending.gov back to the federal budget. Anthony is a writer living and working in Amherst, MA. He is interested in helping good non-profits grow so that they can do their best work.
Advocacy groups like the Sunlight Foundation and National Priorities Project have long lamented the state of data gathered on USAspending.gov, which remains the key, searchable data repository for those interested in learning about and educating others on our federal spending. Individual federal agencies are responsible for reporting their expenditures to USAspending.gov in the interest of contributing to an open, transparent government. A working group at the Western Massachusetts Civic Day of Hacking sought to reconcile the information on USAspending.gov with the information in the budget appendix, published by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), keeping in mind that true transparency means being able to track expenditures from the budget to USAspending.gov. A group of computer programmers, data managers, and political activists got together to work on this problem over the weekend of June 1 and 2. What we found was that this goal was at least very difficult, and perhaps impossible, to achieve.
We started by looking at the data on the OMB website to see if we could parse it for useful identifiers that we could then match up with the data on USAspending.gov. The data on the OMB website turns out to be particularly user unfriendly for these purposes, presented in XML and PDF formats that are not easy to search by category. Each section of the budget has a Treasury ID, so we took that as our starting point for trying to match expenditures listed on the budget with USASpending.gov.
Hack for Western Mass team. Photo credit: Molly McLeodContinue reading