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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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Visualizing Biden’s $1.52 Trillion Budget Proposal for 2022

A breakdown of President Biden’s budget proposal for 2022. Climate change initiatives, cybersecurity, and additional social programs are key areas of focus.

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Visualizing Biden’s Budget Proposal for 2022

On April 9th, President Joe Biden released his first budget proposal plan for the 2022 fiscal year.

The $1.52 trillion discretionary budget proposes boosts in funding that would help combat climate change, support disease control, and subsidize social programs.

This graphic outlines some key takeaways from Biden’s budget proposal plan and highlights how funds could be allocated in the next fiscal year.

U.S. Federal Budget 101

Before diving into the proposal’s key takeaways, it’s worth taking a step back to cover the basics around the U.S. federal budget process, for those who aren’t familiar.

Each year, the president of the U.S. is required to present a federal budget proposal to Congress. It’s usually submitted each February, but this year’s proposal has been delayed due to alleged issues with the previous administration during the handover of office.

Biden’s publicized budget only includes discretionary spending for now—a full budget that includes mandatory spending is expected to be released in the next few months.

Key Takeaways From Biden’s Budget Proposal

Overall, Biden’s proposed budget would increase funds for a majority of cabinet departments. This is a drastic pivot from last year’s proposal, which was focused on budget cuts.

Here’s a look at some of the biggest departmental changes, and their proposed spending for 2022:

Department2022 Proposed Spending (Billions)% Change from 2021
Education$29.841%
Commerce$11.428%
Health and Human Services$131.724%
Environmental Protection Agency$11.221%
Interior$17.416%
Agriculture$27.816%
Housing and Urban Development$68.715%
Transportation$25.614%
Labor$14.214%
State and International Aid$63.512%
Treasury$14.911%
Energy$46.110%
Small Business Administration$0.99%
Veteran Affairs$113.18%
Justice$17.45%
Defense$715.02%

One of the biggest boosts in spending is for education. The proposed $29.8 billion would be a 41% increase from 2021. The extra funds would support students in high-poverty schools, as well as children with disabilities.

Health and human services is also a top priority in Biden’s budget, perhaps unsurprisingly given the global pandemic. But the boost in funds extends beyond disease control. Biden’s budget allocates $1.6 billion towards mental health grants and $10.7 billion to help stop the opioid crisis.

There are increases across all major budget categories, but defense will see the smallest increase from 2021 spending, at 2%. It’s worth noting that defense is also the biggest budget category by far, and with a total of $715 billion allocated, the budget lists deterring threats from China and Russia as a major goal.

Which Bills Will Make it Through?

It’s important to reiterate that this plan is just a proposal. Each bill needs to get passed through Congress before it becomes official.

Considering the slim majority held by Democrats, it’s unlikely that Biden’s budget will make it through Congress without any changes. Over the next few months, it’ll be interesting to see what makes it through the wringer.

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Mapping the World’s Key Maritime Choke Points

Ocean shipping is the primary mode of international trade. This map identifies maritime choke points that pose a risk to this complex logistic network.

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maritime choke points

Mapping the World’s Key Maritime Choke Points

Maritime transport is an essential part of international trade—approximately 80% of global merchandise is shipped via sea.

Because of its importance, commercial shipping relies on strategic trade routes to move goods efficiently. These waterways are used by thousands of vessels a year—but it’s not always smooth sailing. In fact, there are certain points along these routes that pose a risk to the whole system.

Here’s a look at the world’s most vulnerable maritime bottlenecks—also known as choke points—as identified by GIS.

What’s a Choke Point?

Choke points are strategic, narrow passages that connect two larger areas to one another. When it comes to maritime trade, these are typically straits or canals that see high volumes of traffic because of their optimal location.

Despite their convenience, these vital points pose several risks:

  • Structural risks: As demonstrated in the recent Suez Canal blockage, ships can crash along the shore of a canal if the passage is too narrow, causing traffic jams that can last for days.
  • Geopolitical risks: Because of their high traffic, choke points are particularly vulnerable to blockades or deliberate disruptions during times of political unrest.

The type and degree of risk varies, depending on location. Here’s a look at some of the biggest threats, at eight of the world’s major choke points.

maritime choke point risks

Because of their high risk, alternatives for some of these key routes have been proposed in the past—for instance, in 2013 Nicaraguan Congress approved a $40 billion dollar project proposal to build a canal that was meant to rival the Panama Canal.

As of today, it has yet to materialize.

A Closer Look: Key Maritime Choke Points

Despite their vulnerabilities, these choke points remain critical waterways that facilitate international trade. Below, we dive into a few of the key areas to provide some context on just how important they are to global trade.

The Panama Canal

The Panama Canal is a lock-type canal that provides a shortcut for ships traveling between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Ships sailing between the east and west coasts of the U.S. save over 8,000 nautical miles by using the canal—which roughly shortens their trip by 21 days.

In 2019, 252 million long tons of goods were transported through the Panama Canal, which generated over $2.6 billion in tolls.

The Suez Canal

The Suez Canal is an Egyptian waterway that connects Europe to Asia. Without this route, ships would need to sail around Africa, which would add approximately seven days to their trips. In 2019, nearly 19,000 vessels, and 1 billion tons of cargo, traveled through the Suez Canal.

In an effort to mitigate risk, the Egyptian government embarked on a major expansion project for the canal back in 2015. But, given the recent blockage caused by a Taiwanese container ship, it’s clear that the waterway is still vulnerable to obstruction.

The Strait of Malacca

At its smallest point, the Strait of Malacca is approximately 1.5 nautical miles, making it one of the world’s narrowest choke points. Despite its size, it’s one of Asia’s most critical waterways, since it provides a critical connection between China, India, and Southeast Asia. This choke point creates a risky situation for the 130,000 or so ships that visit the Port of Singapore each year.

The area is also known to have problems with piracy—in 2019, there were 30 piracy incidents, according to private information group ReCAAP ISC.

The Strait of Hormuz

Controlled by Iran, the Strait of Hormuz links the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Oman, ultimately draining into the Arabian Sea. It’s a primary vein for the world’s oil supply, transporting approximately 21 million barrels per day.

Historically, it’s also been a site of regional conflict. For instance, tankers and commercial ships were attacked in that area during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.

The Bab el-Mandeb Strait

The Bab el-Mandeb Strait is another primary waterway for the world’s oil and natural gas. Nestled between Africa and the Middle East, the critical route connects the Mediterranean Sea (via the Suez Canal) to the Indian Ocean.

Like the Strait of Malacca, it’s well known as a high-risk area for pirate attacks. In May 2020, a UK chemical tanker was attacked off the coast of Yemen–the ninth pirate attack in the area that year.

Due to the strategic nature of the region, there is a strong military presence in nearby Djibouti, including China’s first ever foreign military base.

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