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.

Oxford Research Encyclopedias

http://oxfordre.com/

If you are researching an unfamiliar topic and seek peer-reviewed material, the Oxford Research Encyclopedias may be a good resource.  From the site:

“The OREs offer long-form overview articles written and edited by leading scholars and researchers, addressing both foundational and cutting-edge topics across the major disciplines. Oxford University Press is developing this program in response to a growing need for reliable information to be used at the start of serious research on an unfamiliar topic.

Designed to inform academic research at all levels, the Oxford Research Encyclopedias will be a constantly growing and evolving reference source. Each subject goes beyond the basic facts to contextualize topics within existing scholarship and help pave the way to deeper engagement and inquiry.”

Several different subject areas are covered, from African History to Religion, and from the link above you search the topic on the right hand side of the site.  Once you choose a link you are directed to an entire site dedicated in great detail to the topic.  One drawback to the site is that some of the information may only be accessed via subscription, though there is some free content as well.

Making Home Affordable

http://makinghomeaffordable.gov/

The Obama Administration launched this site yesterday to provide a starting point for homeowners who have questions about their mortgages and their financial future.  Users should start with the self-assessment tools to determine their eligibility for various options.  Detailed information is available on refinancing and loan modification, or users can start with the FAQ.

Tennessee Legal Aid Booklets

www.tennlegalaid.com/Library/

Tennessee Legal Aid’s online library contains a number of full-text booklets on a variety of topics, including: child support, health care, discrimination, divorce, unemployment, renter’s rights, etc.  Browse by category or search by keyword.

Early Delinquency Intervention: Saving Your Home from Foreclosure

http://housingeducation.org/edi/index.html

This site, from the Housing Education Program, offers information to homeowners who might eventually face foreclosure.  The goal is to get the information to people before foreclosure is the only remaining option.  Using this site, homeowners can complete a thorough assessment of their current situation, view many different options for how to correct the situation, and see examples of letters to write to creditors.