One More Serious Thing Before Christmas

by francine Hardaway on December 14, 2007

I just read something truly uplifting for the first time in a long time. So maybe this isn’t the last serious thing before Christmas. Maybe it’s the first serious thing in the spirit of Christmas.

And it doesn’t matter what side of this ridiculous political fence you are on — anyone can appreciate this.  Craig Newmark, the unique guy who founded Craigslist,  is also involved with the Sunlight Foundation.  The Sunlight Foundation was founded last year to explore how elected representatives use our money. How does it do this? Through technology, of course. Today its first major initiative was launched: a database of government spending.

What’s cool about a database? The fact that the new site,, which launches today, was developed by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in cooperation with the Foundation, and uses a database developed by the Sunlight Foundation.

To me, this is one of the most promising uses of technology: to make processes and activities transparent, to cast a light on autocratic governments around the world, on formerly secret and opaque processes, on intermediaries who hold information and therefore exercise power over the people who created them.

Thanks to OMB and Sunlight Foundation and the glory of the web (yes, you all know I believe the web has changed my life and that of most everyone else) we as citizens can now know where our tax money goes. Which means we can take steps to changing where it goes if we think that it is going to the wrong place.

This should please conservatives, who  are disappointed at the rate of growth in government spending, as well as progressives, who think the money’s going to the wrong places. Now we can exercise our right to vote and our power to change things.  This is what’s great about America.

Personally, I’m delighted this site launches just before Christmas, and just in time for some of us to study it before voting in the primaries. No longer can we say we don’t have the information to cast an intelligent vote.

Did you know, for example, that the largest government contractor is Boeing, who received  over $12 billion in government contracts for 2006, a whopping 8% of all contractor dollars?

61% of government contracting dollars go to the top 100 contractors, including all the usual suspects and the oil companies and auto companies. Mysteriously, when I searched for Halliburton, I only turned up $63,000 in contracts for 2006, so that must be buried somewhere in a subsidiary, because I know it’s more than that.

But analyzing quickly, I see that $146b is given out to 100 large companies and universities.  I guess this is the corporate welfare side of the fence.

On the individual welfare side, which is under the Assistance tab, the states of California, New York and Pennsylvania are the top three, followed by Johns Hopkins University. California appears twice in the top ten recipients of assistance, the second time for its education system and the first for its family services.

I’m not a data junkie, and I don’t have time to do it right now, but I can’t wait until someone with the right skill sets dives into this database. I’m sure interesting things will emerge.

So this database, in a season where the major political campaigns are talking about issues like what Mormons believe or whether Obama sniffed coke in high school, allows us to ask the candidates real questions on POLITICAL rather than personal issues before we cast our votes in 2008.

Happy Holidays.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael R. Bernstein December 14, 2007 at 8:21 am

I think you meant

mike connolly December 15, 2007 at 9:03 am

The link to USASpending contains a comma, which sort of screws the link up a bit.

The fact that the new site,, which launches today, . . .

Blogtommy December 15, 2007 at 3:43 pm

Didn’t ya just know sooner or later this would be the case. Whereas politics are as old as the human race, technology will eventually trump all. As an ex-government employee I do get my share of Public Employee bashing, but this seems much more upscale than anything with which I was ever associated. I’m diggin’ the blog and have subscribed even though I’m still too young to get pissed off….LOL


francine hardaway December 15, 2007 at 6:07 pm

Too young to get pissed off? There’s no such thing!

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