In US budget's fine print, a treasure-trove of information

Want to know how much the White House will spend to screen mail? How about maintain its lawn? Crack open the budget Appendix for Washington’s spending secrets.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
The cover of President Obama's 2011 Budget is seen as copies are delivered for distribution to Senate staff on Capitol Hill in Washington February 1.

A snowy workday is a great time to curl up with a cup of tea, a space heater, and the Budget of the US Government Fiscal Year 2011 Appendix.

Don’t laugh. If you want to know the 
secrets of Washington, you have to follow the paper, and there is no paper like the Appendix. It’s the big boy of the budget documents that the White House sends to Congress every year – a phone-book-size list of all federal spending and activities.

Want to find out how many people work in maintenance at the White House? That’s on page 1,146. What’s the annual cost of the witness protection program? Page 753. (The answers are 96 and $36 million, respectively.)

If you can overlook the tiny type and the industrial prose, the Appendix delivers at least three literary pleasures.

A sense of the government’s reach

Read the Appendix, and one starts to appreciate the immense scope of the US government, which includes everything from the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund to Weapons Procurement, Navy.

It’s comforting – even inspiring – to know that out there are hundreds of thousands of bureaucrats laboring on your behalf, Monday through Friday, 9 to 5ish, except on federal holidays and days when snow exceeds 20 inches on the White House South Lawn.

Things you didn’t know existed

There’s a Domestic Nuclear Detection Office in the Department of Homeland Security. It employs 130 people and costs about $37 million a year. The US has a Fisherman’s Guaranty Fund, which reimburses ship owners whose vessels are unfairly seized by foreign governments. The National Security Agency wants $46 million to build something, most likely an eavesdropping station, in a foreign country.

Did you know these things? Decoder thinks not.

Awesome trivia

At the beginning of this fiscal year, the FBI had 99,172 cases pending. The Department of Agriculture wants $16 million to respond to Asian longhorned beetles in Massachusetts. The White House will spend an estimated $22 million this year to screen its mail.

Wow, $22 million to screen mail? Decoder will do it for $20 million. And that price includes hand delivery to the Oval Office of any sports magazines to which the president subscribes.

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