Do you read the Sunlight Labs blog? You don’t? I encourage you to; the site not only creates tools to help clarify government data, but recommends other sites as well. Recently Sunlight Labs mentioned a tool called Budget. Budget is rather spartan in its presentation at the moment, but I have high hopes for it, and you can see a lot with it already. It’s available at http://yournearby.com/budget/.
The site starts off with a list of the main categories of the budget, and a pie chart showing how those categories are distributed. There’s also a chart showing the progress in the size of the budget over the last ten years. And to put things in some kind of perspective, you also get a “fun fact.” (On the front page, the fun fact for the whole budget is “That’s enough to build 6,302 Empire State Buildings in today’s money.”)
This is interesting but it’s more interesting to me when you start to drill down. Click on a budget category and you’ll get a page with more detailed information on that particular category — here’s the one for the Department of Transportation:
You’ll notice that some of the subcategories of budget are hyperlinked and some aren’t. That’s because you can drill down on some of them still further. If I picked the Federal Railroad Administration, I’ll get a list of nine more items along with the pie chart, the time graph, and even a fun fact (“That’s enough to pay for college tuition for 242,825 students’ tuition at public, four-year colleges.”)
You’ll notice that some of the line items don’t show completely on the page. Hold your mouse pointer over the item and you’ll get the full name.
The site needs more documentation, and it would be great if you have actual direct links to the budget. But the creator of the tool has said that he will be expanding it, and I’m looking forward to that with interest. This visualization of information is fundamental enough that the government should be offering it. How fortunate that Budget is open source and available under the GPL!