Friday, December 28, 2007

tax dollars at work... saving one mohair farmer at a time.

The US government has created a searchable database of federal spending, making it easier to understand just where. and for whom all our tax dollars are being spent. (the website: Once there, you can search by either government spending from contracts, or by assistance programs. From there, you can take a gander at the top recipients of contract funds and assistance, or break out the data by state, and see which congressmen and women are getting the bulk of the federal monies for their constituents. To mine through all this data is daunting, but the peculiarities are not as uncommon as one might think.
Looking for the top 100 recipients of federal assistance, you get a multifarious list of random institutions and lower level government agencies - such as state homeland security offices, universities, and health aid programs. Most of these are pretty benign, and we would question our congresspeoples methods of US spending if we didn't see them on the list. However, a few were surprising. Did you know there is an assistance program, of over 27 million dollars in aid, for Mohair shearers? How about Lamb Meat Adjustment Assistance? Or perhaps you'd be interested in knowing that Puerto Rico, a nonvoting territory, receives a considerable amount of aid ($758 million) from the Very Low to Moderate Income Housing Loans program?
All these digits are fun to peruse, but when it comes down to it, the database is in itself a boondoggle- the lovely green bar graphs and excel sheet cutouts make us feel better about the government budget, but an actual analysis of federal spending would take years using this website. Instead of denying the American public access to information about how their tax dollars are spent, the government crowds a single website so much that even the most cheery political watchdog or tax enthusiast (if there is such a being) would quickly loose interest in clicking through all the pages, or at least as quickly realize that the information provided, while massive, sums up to a total of nothing conclusive. The feds, while attempting a show of openness, are using the oldest trick in the book: flood with information, and hope for boredom and lack of interest.
Not for nothing, but at the very least, the database can tell us about ourselves in the past--or at least the recent past. The spending records go back to 2000, and by pulling reports of different government agencies, such as the department of justice, for the top assistance recipients, we can see how our world has changed. As of 2006, homeland security agencies have been the top recipients of aid, whereas back in 2000, law enforcement and criminal justice ruled the budgetary day.
Or perhaps, you'd be interested to know that the department of health has spent $381,519,593 on program 93.235, also known as the abstinence education program. Of course, this is an issue because as the money for this program rises, so too does the teenage pregnancy rate:
or here:
To take a pregant pause in this argument, it would be fair to say that the rate increase could also be caused by many other factors, perhaps reduction of federal spending on birth control pill assistance for college students (, for one.
Hopefully, someone will take the time to truly analyze this data. But the odds, like the piles of federal dollars going to mohair and ill-advised sexual education programs, are stacked (like rolls of money) against it.

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