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Online Budget Database Planned by White House 304

prostoalex writes "The President of the United States feels Americans should be able 'to Google their tax dollars', and has signed a law that will create an online database to track federal spending. According to the Associated Press, the 'law is aimed preventing wasteful spending by opening the federal budget to greater scrutiny. The information is already available, but the Web site would make it easier for those who aren't experts on the process to see how taxpayer dollars are being spent.'"
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Online Budget Database Planned by White House

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  • by bricriu ( 184334 ) on Tuesday September 26, 2006 @03:02PM (#16203295) Homepage
    Bush didn't push this, it was a broad, bipartisan coalition of Senators that pushed this through over the "secret holds" of pork-lovin' Senators from AK and VA, aided by bloggers of all stripes []. Maybe he's into it too, but to give credit for this to the President when Sens. Coburn and Obama are its parents and originals is disingenuous to say the least.
  • Re:In other news... (Score:5, Informative)

    by statemachine ( 840641 ) on Tuesday September 26, 2006 @03:10PM (#16203483)
    ...thousands of Slashdot readers with severe cases of Bush Derangement Syndrome (BDS) go into shock as the president does something they can't somehow link with the end of the world and everyone's freedoms.

    GB2 has only ever vetoed one bill. He's a rubber-stamping president. (The one bill he did veto was about stem-cells and that had to do more with religion than anything else.) He doesn't deserve credit for any bill coming across his desk.
  • by NewbieV ( 568310 ) <(moc.liamg) (ta) ... smaharba.rotciv)> on Tuesday September 26, 2006 @03:11PM (#16203509)

    "The law calls for the Web site to go online by Jan. 1, 2008. It will list federal grants and contracts greater than $25,000, except for those classified for national security reasons."

    So it doesn't contain all the budget details, but it is a good start.

    For more information on the Federal budget, Google turns up this site [].

  • by FrYGuY101 ( 770432 ) on Tuesday September 26, 2006 @03:15PM (#16203559) Journal
    Why do you think Senator Ted "The internet is a series of tubes" Stevens put a hold on the bill to create this website? (I only WISH I was kiding.)
  • by eln ( 21727 ) * on Tuesday September 26, 2006 @03:18PM (#16203613)
    The problem with the line-item veto is it makes it so that the President can approve laws that are different than the ones Congress approved. A bill usually represents a set of compromises between the parties, so if the President line-item vetoes parts of it, he's going to end up enacting a bill that violates the compromise that was struck in Congress, and some of the people in Congress would not have voted for had they known parts of it were going to be struck out by the President. In this way, the line-item veto violates the separation of powers and vastly increases the power of the Executive. Personally, I think the Executive is way too powerful already.

    On the other hand, the practice of last-minute riders and amendments on bills stinks as well. Ideally, Congress people would be prohibited from attaching amendments to bills that are not directly related to the main subject matter of that bill, but I don't see that happening any time soon.
  • Re:In other news... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Marxist Hacker 42 ( 638312 ) * <> on Tuesday September 26, 2006 @03:26PM (#16203785) Homepage Journal
    WHat marraige penalty? You file jointly, you get a bigger deduction. I don't see a penalty there. Oh, you want an even bigger deduction than you would have gotten alone? And why do you deserve that? Typical conservative spin- not getting a bonus deduction is now a penalty.

    The actual penalty was more along these lines: A TWO income family, fileing jointly, got a smaller deduction than two independant people filing singly. About $600 less, on the standard deduction. All the "elimination of the marriage penalty" did was make the standard deduction for filing jointly exactly 2x the standard deduction for filing singly.

    Of course, good luck if you're a bigamist with two wives....
  • by necro81 ( 917438 ) on Tuesday September 26, 2006 @03:39PM (#16204037) Journal
    Thank Goodness someone pointed this out. It was never a White House initiative, and many members of Congress had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to make it happen. For the interested, here is a link [] to Senator Obama's semi-regular podcast, where he outlines the bill and what he and Coburn set out to do with it.

    Also, a link [] to the /. posting on Sen. Stevens' obstruction of the bill.
  • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Tuesday September 26, 2006 @04:25PM (#16204921)
    The PDF shows the discretionary budget - the part which has to be allocated each year by Congress. Social security, medicare, and medicaid are funded through their own taxes, so the PDF leaves them off. If it had included them, they would be the largest components of Federal spending ($798 billion in 2001, 48% of all federal revenue) []; and the Department of Health and Human Services would be the most funded department.

    Which view you choose to take is semantics. Personally, I define "Federal spending" as "how do they spend the money they take from me and my employer." So I would include SS and medical programs in my view of the Federal budget. Some people like to argue that SS and medical programs give money directly back to citizens. But then you open up all sorts of arguments about direct economic effects and indirect economic effects. It's really not worth arguing about since it's highly unlikely said argument will change anyone's minds. The numbers are all there once you add the SS, medicare, and medicaid figures. Just interpret them as you please.

  • Re:Already been done (Score:5, Informative)

    by Zathrus ( 232140 ) on Tuesday September 26, 2006 @04:31PM (#16205075) Homepage
    It's quite interesting to note that 64% of the entire federal budget is earmarked for military spending

    No, 64% of the discretionary Federal budget is for military spending. Overall, it's closer to only about 17%, although I'm not sure that amount includes the "emergency" spending for the Iraq/Afghanistan wars or not.

    Note that nowhere on that "graph" will you find monies allocated toward Social Security, Medicare, Unemployment/welfare, and paying the national debt. That alone accounts for the vast majority of government spending -- pretty much 1.8B of the 2.8B Federal budget (or nearly 2/3 if you prefer it that way).

    That said, between "discretionary" and "non-discretionary", Defense is still #2 overall. So it's still big, but it's not 64% kind of big.

    If you really want shocking, compare US Defense spending to other countries, or even the rest of the world's. Although raw numbers are somewhat misleading due to conversion rates, et. al. But even if you level it out with "parity purchasing power" kinds of numbers, it's still interesting.
  • Re:Proof (Score:3, Informative)

    by Money for Nothin' ( 754763 ) on Tuesday September 26, 2006 @06:31PM (#16207247)

    Not all things lend themselves to Cost/Benefit Analysis.

    Disagree. Yes, every decision lends itself to CBA.

    I think you misunderstand the purpose of CBA, however. CBA does not always seek a perfectly-accurate answer (particularly where a service cost is involved, such as an hourly rate for somebody's labor on a task of only estimable difficulty), for a perfect knowledge of final costs cannot be known in real-world, non-trivial cost/benefit scenarios.

    Instead, CBA seeks a *sufficiently-useful* estimate, and in so doing, notes its assumptions and categorizations. Regarding categorizations, take "hard" vs. "soft" costs, for example: a "hard" savings is a tangible, calculable savings, such as $100,000/year on server hardware purchases. A "soft" savings is intangible (or at least less-tangible), such as "productivity of the workforce increased by 1.55% from having fewer servers to deal with".

    The only real question regarding CBA is not whether it is relevant, but what the scope of the analysis should be, and how realistic the assumptions are: after all, if it costs more to do the CBA than each of the possible decisions, then it's a clear case of "analysis paralysis" -- an unnecessarily-complex and expensive analysis.

    For example, it doesn't make sense to spend $0.10 in paper and ink costs -- not to mention your much-more expensive time -- to decide whether to buy a $0.05 Tootsie Roll out of a jar at a small family store in Bufu, Montana. There, a quick in-my-mind estimate of whether it'll make me a bit happier or not will more than suffice. But it makes plenty of sense to buy computers for a team of mid-upper 5-figure financial analysts, managers, etc. if they will produce cost-savings/efficiency gains that exceed their own analytical costs.

    If you believe my view that you misunderstand the purpose of CBA is in error, then pitch me an example of CBA's irrelevance -- I dare you. :-) (I don't do formal CBA for a living, but in balancing my time at work spent on various tasks, I do it in the back of my mind, and I do formal CBA for any non-trivial personal purchase. And I play armchair economist occasionally, with more formal education behind it than the typical college grad.)

    In this case, the benefit isn't $X saved by Congress, or even the country, because there is no way to tell just how much influence this will have. People will have all sorts of opinions once they see the detailed information, and the net result is impossible to predict.

    Well, the usefulness of the database/website certainly won't be *easy* to predict. It really depends on:

    * The accuracy of the information
    * The completeness of the information -- What black-ops projects are going unreported? What overpriced toilet seats did the military manage to hide? What bullshit expenses is Pres. Bush hiding under the guise of "national security"?, etc.
    * The atomicity of the information -- Do we get to see every credit and debit transaction? Or do we merely get to see sums, summaries, etc.?
    * The ease and extensiveness of access to the information -- Can I get the data as a text file? as HTML? as an Excel sheet? as a PDF?, can I pull a replica of the database from a given point in time, and run my own SQL queries against it?, etc.
    * The ability to do useful things with the information -- Will the site do regression analyses? Will the site puke out historical data, e.g. can I get all Social Security spending since 1935, and can I get it adjusted for inflation?, etc. etc.

    In short, it depends on the *DESIGN* of the project. Hence, this is why CBA is -- if done properly -- done multiple times, at least once for each different stages of the project, using ever-more refined and accurate figures each time.

    Personally, I don't consider a project's CBA, timelines, or anything else to be even *close* to realistic until a detailed technical desig

"What the scientists have in their briefcases is terrifying." -- Nikita Khrushchev