A new, improved look at federal finances

  • 12 June 2019
  • NormanL

The federal government collects mountains of data on almost every subject imaginable -- including how much money Uncle Sam takes in from taxpayers, and spends on various budget items. Getting all that informaiton in one place, and presented in a way that's easy to understand has always been a challenge. Now, the Bureau of Fiscal Affairs has put together a site that attempt to give clear, concise descriptions of federal spending though Your Guide to America's Finances.

Here's how it came about:

Daniel Cain, the bureau’s Deputy Assistant Commissioner for Data Transparency, said the new guide, which launched in April,  stemmed from conversations with Treasury Department officials on ways to “make data understandable by visualizing it and making it interactive for users,” based on the success of the bureau’s Data Lab website and USASpending.gov.

But in order to better understand what questions the bureau should seek to answer with all of its data, teams went out on the National Mall last summer and asked members of the public what questions they had about how the government spends and brings in money.

“One of the things that was really surprising to us is that time and time again, people were really interested in federal finances. They were really interested in talking with us and sharing their opinions,” Marsico said. “People felt a little bit intimidated by the level of jargon and the perceived level of accounting expertise that one would need to find this information, but people were really engaged and passionate about the topic, and we used that energy to actually shape the content of Your Guide to America’s Finances.”

Based on those interviews on the Mall,  bureau officials structured the new guide into four sections: federal spending, revenue, debt and the deficit. But the team also got valuable feedback on making the new guide easy to find and easy to use.

“If someone has a question about how much money the federal government spent in, say, fiscal year 2018, and they put that question into Google, if we’re not in the first page of answers, they’re not going to find us,” Marsico said about the need for search engine optimization.

The new site is still being tested. But we like what we see (such as learning how the government spends $130,000 per second), and hope you will bookmark it for future reference.