USASpending Publishes (Some) Budget Requests In A Central Location

USASpending.gov/#/agency

Every year federal agencies explain to Congress their requests for funding in a document known as a Congressional Budget Justification (CBJ). Unlike other budget documents, these requests are written to be read and understood by most people. 

Hundreds of agencies and sub-agencies submit these requests and OMB requires executive branch agencies to publish their CBJs online, but there hasn’t been a ‘one-stop-shop’ government database that aggregates all the requests in one place…until now (sort of).

USASpending.gov recently published a guide to budgetary resources for 100 agencies. It lists all 100 agencies’ budgets (down to the dollar) and links to either a specific budget justification or a budget justification landing page on agency websites for 64 out of 100 agencies. 

Earlier this year, Demand Progress compiled our own database of CBJs. We surveyed 456 agencies and sub-agencies. Unfortunately, there’s no public listing of all the CBJs that are required to be submitted to Congress. We turned up CBJs for 360 agencies and sub-agencies.  Of those, 141 of the agency CBJs traditionally would be included in CBJ’s generated by 73 other agencies. It appears that the USASpending website may be missing some agencies.

The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) requires executive branch agencies to publish their CBJs online within two weeks of submitting them to Congress. We can’t say whether agencies are complying with the rule because there’s no list of who must submit or when the documents were submitted to Congress. 

Congress urged OMB in 2018 and 2019 to publish all CBJs on a central website. It may be that the new USASpending website is OMB’s effort to comply with these requests.

We are glad to see that OMB is publishing links to the CBJs. This is a small but important step. However, there are significant problems with OMB’s approach:

  • We were able to find a tweet announcing that this new compilation exists, but we think it should be more visible. The repository deserves a press release (which we were unable to find) and it does not appear to be linked to from OMB’s budget webpage, which is where people commonly look for agency materials.
  • Because USASpending is not publishing the documents themselves, the links are subject to rot, and will stop working over time as agency websites are redesigned. It would be better for USASpending to host a copy, or at least to have a backup available for when the links break.
  • There’s no way to know whether the list of agencies that submit CBJs on USASpending’s website is complete — we have reason to suspect it is not.
  • The website does not make clear that these are the CBJ’s for FY 2020 and it appears to make no provision for maintaining a list of links for reports to past years.

As we said above, the new USASpending site is a small step in the right direction, but so far it is insufficient for its purpose. USASpending should maintain a centralized website that lists all the agencies that are required to submit and publish CBJs, whether they have done so, republish the reports, and maintain historical reports for prior years. In addition, OMB’s budget website should link to the USASpending page.

Written by Amelia Strauss and Daniel Schuman

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