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Government - Written by on Monday, April 26, 2010 14:17 - 2 Comments

Naumi Haque
The most open and accessible record of U.S. Government spending ever (in 6 sq ft)

I just came across the 2011 edition of an awesome info-graphic Death & Taxes, from 29-year-old graphic designer (and obvious data junkie) Jess Bachman. I think this is a great example of what Nick Vitalari wrote about a few months ago with respect to open data and citizen-led initiatives. Specifically, he said:

“Open data unleashes the creative potential of citizens and private enterprise to create new services, software applications, and insights that the government cannot do by itself. The shear numbers tell the story. Millions of citizens and hundreds of thousands of companies of all sizes uniting to independently create value and enhance the common good.”

This is exactly what you are seeing below. Bachman breaks down the 2011 Federal budget in a surprisingly simple graphic, showing total spend per category, percent change, and size relative to other spending priorities (click the image for the interactive chart).

Admittedly, I’m a little late to the party on this one. Bachman has being doing this since 2004 and has been featured in numerous publications as well as on national television. Still, if you’re like me and haven’t had a chance to check it out, definitely set aside some time to do so. There’s a new graphic every year, so even if you saw the chart a couple of years ago, it’s probably worth a revisit. This will be particularly relevant for U.S. readers who can calculate where their tax dollars are going at a fairly granular level. For example, in 2011, the average American tax payer will give $3,565 to the Department of Defense, $249 to the Department of Education, $218 to Homeland Security, $93 to NASA, $53 to the Environmental Protection Agency, $35 to Nuclear Weapons Activities, $27 to financing foreign militaries in Israel and Egypt, $22 to Postal Service, $14 to National Parks, $12 to HIV/AIDS, $6 to counter-insurgency in Pakistan, and $2.21 to Obama (Executive Office of the President). As Bachman notes:

“Thousands of pages of raw data have been boiled down to one poster that provides the most open and accessible record of our nations’ spending you will ever find. If you pay taxes, then you have paid for a small part of everything in the poster. ‘Death and Taxes’ is an essential poster for any responsible citizen or information junkie.”

The next order of sophistication for something like this would be an interactive budget chart a la Freiburg model, where citizens could use the visualization to propose their own balanced budgets as a way to provide feedback about their priorities. Imagine sliders that would allow you to ratchet-up or ratchet-down the relative size of spending categories.  These individual budgets could then be aggregated into a ‘citizen budget’ that would go beyond simple ‘suggestion box’ initiatives to provide a truly useful piece of information for policy makers.  I’m guessing a collaborative citizen budget would look a lot different than the one shown above.


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Norma Sidler
Apr 27, 2010 13:16

A visual! Nice — but how does someone have time to do something like this? :)

Oct 28, 2010 4:22

Very informative post! Thanks!

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