Machine-readable budget in a human-friendly format

Machine-readable budget in a human-friendly format

Coming in at 182 pages of dense, complex financial data, the President’s Fiscal Year 2017 budget proposal is intimidating reading for all but the most dedicated fiscal wonks.

That was, until this week, which saw the debut of a website designed for visual exploration of the budget proposal, enabling citizens to dive into the data and easily see where tax dollars are going.

The White House, as part of its ongoing push for open data in government, has made all of the numbers in its recently released budget proposal machine readable. The website and application built by Socrata, a government-centric software company, leverages that structured data and provides powerful search tools to deliver multi-faceted visualizations.

The White House’s budget website is powered by Socrata’s Open Budget application, which is part of Socrata’s Public Finance Suite. The budget exploration tool provides interactive charts, tables and snapshots for easy analysis of budget allocations  by agency, program area and the specific activities, departments and offices within them.

An additional Socrata-powered website provides access to the raw budget-related datasets from the Office of Management and Budget, which can be searched, viewed, exported and compared to previous years’ budgets.

The White House took steps in this direction last year by releasing an easy-to-read format of the fiscal year 2016 budget on the Medium blog and posting the open and machine-readable budget data on GitHub so developers could freely create visualizations or products with the data – which was done on OpenGov.com. Another developer even created a U.S. Budget Visualization tool with archived data from 1976 through 2013.

This year, however, the administration collaborated directly with Socrata to make that data more accessible.  And Socrata, in turn, drew on its past experience building budget-transparency tools in other parts of the public sector. The company’s Public Finance Suite has more than 100  local and state government adopters so far, but this year’s federal edition is the largest budget to be presented via the platform.

“Last year, [the White House] published the raw data in CSV format on our platform, this year they wanted to go one step further by making it a little bit more easy to use and easy to understand with visuals,” said Socrata CEO  Kevin Merritt, “as well as making that data dramatically accessible by developers.” 

According to Merritt, the budget platform design has been a year and a half in the making, and colors and logos are changed to match a particular government’s style. And while Socrata is already involved with the White House for other initiatives, this is the first year it’s powering a federal budget product.

About the Author

Amanda Ziadeh is a Reporter/Producer for GCN.

Prior to joining 1105 Media, Ziadeh was a contributing journalist for USA Today Travel's Experience Food and Wine site. She's also held a communications assistant position with the University of Maryland Office of the Comptroller, and has reported for the American Journalism Review, Capitol File Magazine and DC Magazine.

Ziadeh is a graduate of the University of Maryland where her emphasis was multimedia journalism and French studies.

Click here for previous articles by Ms. Ziadeh or connect with her on Twitter: @aziadeh610.


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