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U.S. Federal Government Spending is Now a Single, Unified Data Set

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It’s been many years in the making, but spending data from the U.S. Federal Government is now all unified in one source that can be accessed by anyone.

The significance of this cannot be overstated – every single department of the government is now reporting data to the U.S. Treasury in a common format, and this information is being published online at USASpending.gov.

The data puts records of accounts, budgets, grants, and contracts all in one place, and links this information together in way that has never been done before. Everyday citizens, journalists, and data scientists will be able to see how the government spends money with one consolidated view. Further, this harmonization of accounts will also help to boost transparency, making it easier to spot inefficiencies, waste, and fraud at the federal level.

Here’s an example of a “big picture” output – a view of all 2016 spending in one easy chart.

U.S. Federal Government Spending is Now a Single, Unified Data Set

For the interactive version of the above chart that details $3.85 trillion of federal expenditures and what is included in each account, go to the USASpending.gov site. To dive deeper into millions of data points for each individual transaction record, you’ll probably want to access the API.

It’s Not Perfect, Yet

As with all large government projects, it’s probably not a surprise to learn that the project isn’t exactly working optimally yet. Upon mucking around on the site, certain maps are not yet generating, and the API site was down when we tried to access it:

API doesn't work

Part of the problem is that the DATA Act of 2014, which laid the groundwork for the initiative, had specified a deadline (May 9, 2017) for all agencies to be reporting data in a unified format. Obviously, harmonizing thousands of legacy financial reporting systems from dozens of federal departments is not an easy task.

Deloitte, in a joint report with the Data Coalition trade association, recognizes these technical challenges, while also outlining additional problems that must be addressed with the DATA Act and corresponding systems by 2022.

Jefferson’s Vision

Hudson Hollister, the Founder and Executive Director at Data Coalition, outlined the significance and challenges of harmonizing government data in a blog post today.

He also referenced something interesting, which is that this idea was outlined initially by Thomas Jefferson in the early 19th century. In fact, it was in 1802 that Jefferson wrote to his Treasury Secretary to tell him that the government’s finances were too convoluted for Congress to understand, and this complexity enabled debt and spending to spiral out of control.

His solution at the time? To harmonize all government expenditures in one place:

If to this can be added a simplification of the form of accounts in the treasury department, and in the organization of its officers, so as to bring everything to a single centre, we might hope to see the finances of the Union as clear and intelligible as a merchant’s books, so that every member of Congress, and every man of any mind in the Union, should be able to comprehend them, to investigate abuses, and consequently to control them.

– Thomas Jefferson, Library of Congress (1802)

Hollister notes that it is only now that Jefferson’s vision has been realized.

Hopefully, with some refinement and continued buy-in from government and industry stakeholders, this means more transparent government finances for the foreseeable future.

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Data Visualization

Visualizing the Happiest Country on Every Continent

Where are the happiest, least happy, and fastest improving countries worldwide? We’ve broken down this annual ranking by region to answer that question.

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Visualizing the Happiest Country on Every Continent

The state of our world is shifting beneath our feet — economics alone no longer equate to satisfaction, let alone happiness.

Today’s visualization pulls data from the seventh World Happiness Report 2019, which ranks 156 countries by their happiness levels. We’ve previously shown the variables used to measure happiness in this report, but here, we break down rankings by continent and region for a clearer picture of where each country lies.

happiness north america map

North America

Unhappy Americans have caused the country to tumble in rankings for a third straight year, despite evidence that things are generally looking up. The report attributes much of this erosion to a variety of addictions: opioids, workaholism, gambling, internet, exercise, and even shopping are among them.

Haiti is the least happy country in this region. The country is still struggling to rebuild sanitation infrastructure and other educational and healthcare programs, despite foreign aid.

In brighter news, Nicaragua is seeing great gains in happiness levels, as the country makes a concentrated effort to reduce poverty.

happiness south america map

South America

In South America, the majority of countries cluster around a score of six on the happiness scale.

The one notable exception to this is Venezuela, which is faltering in both happiness rank and regional improvement. The nation’s hyperinflation and humanitarian crisis both show no signs of slowing down.

happiness europe map

Europe

Finland comes out on top of the world for a second consecutive year, and it’s not difficult to see why. The country boasts a stable work-life balance, bolstered by a comprehensive welfare state.

Scandinavian countries appear among the happiest nations for similar very reasons — elevating the region’s score to 16% above the global average.

On the flip side, Ukraine is the unhappiest, likely intensified by the ongoing war in southeastern Donbass. Greece is the least improved, as it continues to heal from the sovereign debt crisis.

happiness middle east map

Middle East and Central Asia

Uzbekistan shows the swiftest regional improvement, as the country has launched an ambitious reform agenda for greater economic, social, and political development and openness.

Unfortunately, Syria’s continued civil war comes with a heavy price for its people and economy, as does the Palestinian-Israeli conflict — although the latter doesn’t seem to impact Israel’s happiness ranking. In fact, Israel finished with the 13th best score, globally.

happiness asia 2019

Rest of Asia and Oceania

In East Asia, the average happiness score is quite close to the global average, with Taiwan standing out as the happiest country.

Singapore out-competes other countries within Southeast Asia, despite only being home to a population of 5.6 million. Its neighbor Malaysia, however, plunged from 35th to 80th place.

Oceania stands alone – Australia and New Zealand are closely matched in their individual happiness scores.

happiness africa map

Africa

The African continent as a whole fares 19.2% below the global average. But there are silver linings, with strong strides towards improvement being made.

Mauritius benefits from good governance and a buoyant tourism sector — with visitor arrivals equal to the island’s 1.3 million population. Meanwhile, Benin has soared in the rankings, and is supported by the World Bank in key structural reforms such as poverty reduction and access to basic services.

What could these rankings look like in another ten years?

Notes: The Africa map was updated to show more country scores. The report only covers 156 countries, so “Oceania” only refers to Australia and New Zealand in this instance.

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Misc

Arms Sales: USA vs. Russia (1950-2017)

This intense animation plots data on nearly 70 years of arms sales, to compare the influence of the two superpowers from the Cold War to modern times.

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Arms Sales: USA vs. Russia (1950-2017)

Between countless proxy wars and the growing threat of nuclear catastrophe, the Cold War created an unprecedented geopolitical climate.

For nearly half a century, the world’s two biggest superpowers were scrambling to top one another by any means necessary. It was a tension that ignited everything from the space race to sports rivalries, with the impact often spilling over to neighboring nations.

Not only did the U.S. and Soviet Union duke it out in the mother of all arms races – they also extended their influence by selling arms outside of their borders. Interestingly, this latter race continues on until today, almost three decades after the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Visualizing Arms Sales

Today’s animation comes from data scientist Will Geary, and it shows the history of international arms sales originating from the U.S. and the Soviet Union (later Russia) from 1950 to 2017.

More specifically, using data from the SIPRI Arms Transfers Database, the animation shows the geographic movement of arms from country to country as well as the evolving share of the arms trade held by the respective countries. The video is also pleasantly backed by audio that represents music from each decade, ranging from Buffalo Springfield to The Clash.

Peak Arms Dominance

If you watch the pie chart in the upper left corner of the animation, you’ll see that the early-1960s is the peak of U.S. and Soviet arm dominance – at this point, around the same time as the Cuban Missile Crisis and then the JFK assassination, the two superpowers combined for 80% of global arms sales.

In the 1960s, the biggest customers of U.S. arms were Germany, the United Kingdom, and Japan – while the Soviets sent the most weapons to Egypt, Poland, and East Germany.

Fall of the Wall

By the 1980s, the global arms trade started dying down as Soviet leaders like Gorbachev focused on domestic reforms, and eventually perestroika.

Later, the Soviet Union dissolved, and arms sales continued to plunge all the way to 2001:

Arms exports by year

Since then, arms sales have been ramping up again – and today, they are back at levels last seen before the Berlin Wall came down.

The Modern Era

Who is selling the most arms, according to the last 10 years of data?

Arms sales by country

Even though the Cold War is now long gone, the U.S. and Russia have kept their legacy of international arms sales going well into the 21st century.

And today, the two nations combine for roughly 60% of arms sales, with top U.S. weapons manufacturers like Lockheed Martin and Raytheon getting a big slice of that pie.

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