Site to pinpoint federal spending

Center for National Policy

The Center for National Policy, a Washington, D.C.-based research organization, is creating an Internet site that will show in detail how the federal government spends money in the nation's congressional districts.

The federal government spends $2 trillion a year on items ranging from Social Security payments to pollution control projects, veterans' mortgages to university grants. But few Americans are aware of how much of that total is spent in their communities, said Leon Panetta, chairman of the Center for National Policy.

"Most Americans do not see the impact of budget decisions on themselves or their neighbors. The American people are entitled to that information," said Panetta, who is a former director of the Office of Management and Budget and a former chairman of the House Budget Committee.

The Center for National Policy is ready to open the fiscal information spigot. Through a project called "What Government Does" (www.solfopro.com/CNP), the center plans to offer a detailed look at federal spending in each congressional district. So far, analysis on federal spending in three states — Ohio, Michigan and Illinois — has been completed.

Federal spending is parsed in substantial detail. The Web site shows:

  • Spending by function — Social Security, medical care, farm income stabilization, education, criminal justice assistance and so on.
  • Spending by federal agencies.
  • Spending by program — Head Start, drunken driving prevention, respiratory impairment treatment for coal miners, food stamps, etc.
  • Spending divided into categories of personnel salaries, procurement and awards and assistance grants. In Ohio's second congressional district in 1999, for example, the federal government spent $128,782,021 on salaries. However, the What Government Does database does not say where the federal employees worked.

Federal spending in the rest of the nation's congressional districts could be analyzed and posted online in six months, said Maureen Steinbruner, president of the Center for National Policy. However, the center needs $500,000 more in funding to accomplish that task. The work done thus far has been funded by the Joyce Foundation.

Information on how federal money is spent locally would give citizens greater understanding of national political issues, Panetta said. It would become clearer, for example, how a vote to cut federal spending would affect various localities, he said.

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