To crunch the numbers of the federal budget, National Priorities Project uses federal budget data published by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) (http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/). Each year the president crafts a budget request for the next fiscal year and submits it to Congress. At that time OMB publishes a wealth of federal budget data – everything from what’s contained in the president’s budget proposal to historic spending by federal agency, detailed estimates of the cost of certain tax policies, and projections about the size of the U.S. economy. These annually-updated numbers are the principal source behind NPP’s federal budget charts.
Occasionally we publish information that’s beyond the scope of what’s available from OMB. In these cases we draw from a variety of government sources, including the Congressional Budget Office, the Congressional Research Service, and budget documents prepared by federal departments like the Social Security Administration and the Department of Defense. As needed, we also draw information from a group of partner organizations, including the Economic Policy Institute, Citizens for Tax Justice, and Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, among others.
All of our charts document the appropriate source. For instance, you’ll frequently see Source: OMB in small text in the bottom right corner of a chart.
We adjust numbers for inflation to allow for easy comparison across years, and our charts note as much. For instance, you might see a note that says “in 2013 dollars.” That means all the numbers displayed have been adjusted for inflation and are expressed in dollars associated with fiscal year 2013.
Sometimes we express federal spending as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the size of the U.S. economy. To do so we use GDP data reported by OMB. We always note when numbers are expressed as a percentage of GDP.
When OMB publishes federal budget data, it uses several categories of spending called functions, and within those, subfunctions. While NPP uses 13 different budget categories to sort federal spending, those do not correspond to the official government functions. Rather, they are meant to organize the many government subfunctions into intuitive groupings.
NPP’s budget categories for total federal spending are defined as follows:
Elementary, secondary, higher and vocational education.
Subfunctions: 501, 502, 503
Natural resources and environment, conservation, and supply and use of energy.
Subfunctions: 271, 272, 274, 276, 301, 302, 303, 304, 306
Agriculture as well as nutritional assistance programs.
Subfunctions: 351, 352, 605
Law enforcement and the justice system, commerce, overhead costs of the federal government, and undistributed offsetting receipts.
Subfunctions: 372, 373, 376, 751, 752, 753, 754, 801, 802, 803, 804, 805, 806, 808, 809, 922, 929, 951, 952, 953, 954, 959
Housing assistance and credit, community development, disaster relief, and services supporting social needs.
Subfunctions: 371, 451, 452, 453, 506, 604, 925
Annual interest paid on the national debt, net of interest income received by assets the federal government owns.
Subfunctions: 901, 902, 903, 908, 909
Diplomatic, development, and humanitarian activities abroad.
Subfunctions: 151, 153, 154, 155
Health care programs and services, and occupational and consumer health & safety.
Subfunctions: 551, 552, 554, 571, 921, 926
National defense, nuclear weapons activities, war costs, and international security assistance.
Subfunctions: 051, 053, 054, 152
General science research and space flight research and activities.
Subfunctions: 251, 252
Income security programs, federal employee retirement and disability, and job training.
Subfunctions 504, 505, 601, 602, 603, 609, 651, 923
Development and support of air, water, ground, and other transportation.
Subfunctions: 401, 402, 403, 407
Health care, housing, education and income security for veterans.
Subfunctions: 701, 702, 703, 704, 705
NPP uses the above categories for total federal spending. The categories differ slightly for charts that represent only certain parts of the federal budget:
When reporting discretionary spending, NPP uses the above categories but excludes spending for mandatory programs like Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, and many veterans services.
When reporting mandatory spending, NPP excludes spending for discretionary programs like education and the military and displays spending within the following five categories that are described above: Food & Agriculture; Medicare & Health; Social Security, Unemployment, & Labor; Transportation; and Veterans Benefits.