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.

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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.

Sorting Fact From Obfuscation

In these unprecedented times in U.S. politics it can be difficult to discern the truth from the spin. The site http://www.factcheck.org/ has taken up the mission of helping anyone who desires to do so. Their mission page states:

“We are a nonpartisan, nonprofit ‘consumer advocate’ for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics. We monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews and news releases. Our goal is to apply the best practices of both journalism and scholarship, and to increase public knowledge and understanding.

FactCheck.org is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. The APPC was established by publisher and philanthropist Walter Annenberg to create a community of scholars within the University of Pennsylvania that would address public policy issues at the local, state and federal levels.”

A quick perusal of articles prominent on the site the day I visited (4/28/17 for the curious) covered such topics as the insecticide chlorpyrifos, Trump’s spin on his first 100 days, Trump’s mischaracterization of President Obama’s purported role in forming the gang MS-13, White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s Hitler gaffe and the 2017 Webby award this site has won.

The site is easy to navigate and there are a few helpful ways to find specific information: you can peruse an archive by topic, search for a desired article or simply browse through the pages. There are additional links to similar and sister sites, ways to ask your own questions and links to other resources offered by the organization, such as ways to browse and view media appearances by their writers.

Power to the People!

Power to the People!

2016 was a historic year for politics in the United States and more citizens have become involved in political action than there have been in a long time. To assist those interested in sharing their opinions with our representative politicians, this list identifies the key players in national affairs representing the region served by our fair institution, the Memphis Public Library and Information Center. Once you know who your representative is, you can contact them to voice your opinion on important matters, whether it concerns federal, state or local issues. This list will not be exhaustive, that is, it will not cover every possible government agency of every layer of government within the covered counties (so, for some examples, if you are wanting to petition the office of the mayor of Lake City, Arkansas, the school board of Independence High School in Tate County, MS or the powers that be in Yum Yum, TN, then I encourage you to do your own research into how you may contact those bodies). This list is a good start if you want to, for example, call your congressman to try to get them to vote the way you expect them to. To compile this list I used the region covered by the counties served by our LINC/211 service.

Each of the three states are listed alphabetically and include contact information for U.S. Senators and Congress members. Note that these representatives only accept and respond to constituents living within their own districts, so if you don’t live there, don’t waste your time trying to contact them directly.

Arkansas:

The state senators for Arkansas are:

John Boozman:            https://www.boozman.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/home

Tom Cotton:                https://www.cotton.senate.gov/

Crittenden County is in Arkansas’ 1st congressional district, represented by Rick Crawford.

http://crawford.house.gov/

Mississippi:

The state senators for Mississippi are:

Thad Cochran:             http://www.cochran.senate.gov/public/

Roger Wicker:             https://www.wicker.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/home

Desoto and Tate counties are within Mississippi’s 1st congressional district, and are represented by Trent Kelly:                                  https://trentkelly.house.gov/

Tunica County is within Mississippi’s 2nd congressional district, and is represented by Bennie Thompson:

https://benniethompson.house.gov/

Tennessee:

The state senators for Tennessee are:

Lamar Alexander:       http://www.alexanderforsenate.com/

Bob Corker:                 http://www.bobcorker.com/

Memphis and much of Shelby county is in Tennessee’s 9th congressional district, represented by Steve Cohen:               https://cohen.house.gov/

Parts of Shelby County, as well as Tipton, Lauderdale, Lake and Obion counties are in Tennessee’s 8th congressional district, represented by David Kustoff:

http://www.kustoffforcongress.com/

Happy Lobbying!

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

 

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.

Climate Change Indicators in the United States

https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-08/documents/climate_indicators_2016.pdf

The Environmental Protection Agency has put out a report detailing the effects of climate change on the nation. “Climate Change Indicators in the United States” “partners with more than 40 data contributors from various government agencies, academic institutions, and other organizations to compile a key set of indicators related to the causes and effects of climate change”, from the site. Previous editions of the report can be found here.

The report includes greenhouse gases, ocean temperature changes, weather anomalies, snow and ice melt, health effects, and ecosystem effects. Number of cases of lyme’s disease and west nile virus in the U.S. are also included. There is no index in the back of the book, but the table of contents is very inclusive.