How Does the Federal Government Spend?

Most all of us at one time or another have complained or at least wondered about how the feds spend our hard earned tax money. We’ve all heard irritating stories about the Pentagon spending absurd amounts on mundane objects (here is an old LA Times article from 1986 on the topic of overspending in the Pentagon in particular mentioning a $7,622 coffee maker), pondered how the president spends his vacation time or had concerns about some other use of the public coffers that may be wasteful. After all, we don’t want our money spent frivolously or for some unethical government contractor to take advantage of such a huge, difficult to manage entity as the budget of the United States.

That’s where www.usaspending.gov/  comes in. As billed by the site itself: “USAspending.gov is the publicly accessible, searchable website mandated by the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 to give the American public access to information on how their tax dollars are spent.”

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Masthead

So you can check on this information in multiple ways. As one example, you may see how much money is spent in the state of Tennessee.

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State of Tennessee

It can be broken down in various ways as well. As can be seen here Davidson County receives well more than 1/3 of the just over $40 billion allocated to the state for Fiscal Year 2017, with a figure of $15,351,958,126. The next county, Shelby, receives $1,620,940,881, and is the only other county to receive $1 Billion or more.

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TN County Breakdown

 

 

There are many more ways to look up information beyond state by state breakdown. This site is just waiting for your curious fingers to enter new search terms or click on the numerous links on the site.

All you ever wanted to know about government spending but were too afraid to ask.

Ex Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has opened a new site called https://www.usafacts.org/, which describes itself as “a new data-driven portrait of the American population, our government’s finances, and government’s impact on society.” It claims to be a non-partisan site that provides a public service.

Mr. Ballmer sees this endeavor as philanthropy, and also takes it seriously as an academic venture. The site has a team made up of experts from Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR), the Penn Wharton Budget Model, and Lynchburg College that, the claim goes “help keep our data accurate and unbiased”. The site not only uses only numbers and data directly from government sources, but has a policy of information only: no judgments, no opinions—just the facts. They also intend to “engage a prominent accounting firm” to audit their processes and controls used to present the information on the site.

So, let’s say you want to see a breakdown of what was spent in 2014. You start with this screen:

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Once you decide to be curious about something else you follow the budget, which the site breaks down into categories found in the Constitution: Establish Justice and Ensure Domestic Tranquility, Provide for the Common Defense, Promote the General Welfare and Secure the Blessings of Liberty to Ourselves and Our Posterity.

2Choose which category that interests you, and you’ll be taken to the next screen that gives more detailed information. So, under “Promote the General Welfare” I chose “Health”. It gives raw numbers on the spending in that area,

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Then I can click to find an even more detailed breakdown of health spending.

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This site looks to become a go-to for seekers of accurate, helpful information on how the U.S. government spends our tax money.

If you’re interested in further reading NPR did a article on this site that may be found here.

Fact Checking Claims for Nutritional Products

http://www.consumerlab.com/ Has the stated mission “To identify the best quality health and nutritional products through independent testing.” If you’re familiar with Consumer Reports, the leader for decades in unbiased testing of consumer products and services, then you understand what Consumer Lab is all about. They appear mostly to focus on products such as vitamins, herbal supplements and similar products. They have no advertising on their site, similar to the approach long practiced by Consumer Reports. They have a page on their site dedicated to a long list of various press releases, news stories and testimonials related to the foundation here. Additionally they have a “Where to Buy” page that helps people find where to buy products recommended on the site. Some online vendors pay a fee to be included on this page, but they receive no proceeds from sales through Consumer Lab. Suffice it to say, consumerlab.com appears to be the gold standard of information regarding effectiveness, safety and legitimacy of these products.

Memberships may be purchased by organizations such as libraries, or for around $40 a year individuals may subscribe to all articles on the site.

E-Tools You Can Use

A recent article in the Library Journal, cited below, has informed and inspired this post highlighting several useful e-tools.

C-SPAN Video Library

Do you want to see what the president said yesterday?  What about what the speaker of the house had to say about your pet issue?  The C-SPAN Video Library is the best place to begin searching for such content.  From the site: “…a way to archive and index the thousands of hours of congressional coverage produced by the network every year. The project quickly became one of the most comprehensive video archives of governmental and political content…”

Docteur Tweety

This site does charge a small fee, but it is useful to keep up with how your tweets are performing.

European Language Social Science Thesaurus

This site bills itself as “a broad-based, multilingual thesaurus for the social sciences” and is useful for those who do business within the European Union.

Google Translate Offline Capabilities

You can use Translate even when you’re offline, by taking a picture of the text in question.

The Internet Broadway Database

From the site:  “…the official database for Broadway theatre information. IBDB provides records of productions from the beginnings of New York theatre until today.”  So, it’s like imdb.com, but for theater.

Irish Films Archive

“The IFI Irish Film Archive acquires, preserves and makes available Ireland’s moving image heritage, working to ensure that Ireland’s rich and varied film history, both amateur and professional, is protected and accessible for the benefit of current and future generations. Film reels, digital materials and document collections are held in custom-built, climate-controlled vaults designed for the long- term storage of archival materials.”

Knoema

Knoema is full of helpful data on every country in the world.  “We discover, extract, and normalize data to make it usable through our open data platform. Knoema’s smart search engine moves beyond simple keyword search results to dataset discovery and auto-generated visualization collections to represent your data query.”

NewsNow

This is a UK based site, but you can personalize a free homepage with news from sources you prefer from sources all over the world.

Original article:

Price, Gary, and Henrietta Verma. “E-toolkit redux.” Library Journal, 1 Nov. 2016, p. S18+. Business Collectionhttps://goo.gl/bf4xWQ

 

GetHuman

www.gethuman.com

Tired of waiting on hold trying to connect with someone at a company? GetHuman is a catalog of direct phone numbers to large companies. Just type in a product, company, or organization name in the search box. The website will provide the phone number, what to directly press to talk to a human, how long the average wait times are, and what hours the call center is open. Below the entry is a place where you can share your experience and give tips on what worked or didn’t work in getting a hold of someone.

 

Manualslib – The Ultimate Manuals Library

http://www.manualslib.com/

This site contains lots of free users guides uploaded by people who held on to the instruction booklet for their refrigerator, computer, dishwasher, remote control, etc. Over 700,000 pdf’s are on the site. Just use the search box to type in what manual you are looking for. From the site, “Search results include manual name, description, size and number of pages.” You can view the manual or download it to your computer by an add on. All manuals are only available in PDF.

You can also share the pages of the manual on social media, if you like. Just click, “share this page”.

Likewise, you can even upload a manual to a product that you don’t see on the page. Instructions are available on the home page.

Medicare Hospital Procedure Charges

http://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Statistics-Trends-and-Reports/Medicare-Provider-Charge-Data/index.html

This new site from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services provides a listing of how much hospitals charge for common inpatient services. From the site, “The data provided here include hospital-specific charges for the more than 3,000 U.S. hospitals that receive Medicare Inpatient Prospective Payment System (IPPS) payments for the top 100 most frequently billed discharges, paid under Medicare.” The Inpatient Charge Data is available in Microsoft Excel or .CSV (Comma Separated Values) format. It provides the diagnosis of the patients, the hospital name, address, state, number of discharges, average covered charges, and average total payments. A national and state summary level is also listed.