Differing results produced by three U.S. government institutions in tracking expenses make the budget process less transparent to taxpayers, say writers Frank Bass and Sharon L. Lynch.
President Barack Obama's budget outlines his ideas for how the government may spend $3.8 trillion in fiscal 2013. There's no similar document accounting for where taxpayers' money actually goes.
At least three federal sources tally spending, each following its own rules to produce a different total. For the 15 Cabinet-level agencies and Social Security, the White House Office of Management and Budget put expenses at $3.18 trillion in fiscal 2010, the last year for which data are complete. Ask the Census Bureau, and the amount rises by $13.1 billion to $3.19 trillion. USASpending.gov, a website Obama championed as a senator, accounts for $2.23 trillion of spending.
The nation's budget has more than doubled in the past decade, pushing the annual deficit to more than $1 trillion and the national debt to $15.2 trillion. Spending dominates the political agenda, with at least three presidential candidates advocating the elimination of entire Cabinet agencies, while billionaires and street protesters debate raising taxes on the wealthy. Yet government institutions that track expenses differ in their estimates by billions of dollars, making the budget process less transparent to taxpayers.