Federal budget fine print: $85 million to inspect eggs, more for OMB

Buried in the appendix of the federal budget plan is the real skinny on how the government aims to spend your money – from clearing brush in national forests to US Army payroll.

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    House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and the committee's ranking Democrat Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., refer to President Barack Obama's fiscal 2012 federal budget during a hearing in Washington Tuesday.
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What’s the budget for white House budget preparation? It’s about $92 million. At least that’s the appropriation for the presidential Office of Management and Budget (OMB), whose main job is to prepare and manage the executive branch budget plans.

How many people are eligible for Pentagon-provided health care? About 9 million, when you add together active-duty troops, their family members, and retirees.
How much does the United States spend inspecting (chicken) “egg plants”? About $85 million – less than OMB’s stipend, we might add.

And where do we find bits of trivia such as these? In the budget appendix, a dictionary-sized tome whose annual arrival Washington wonks celebrate as an early sign of spring.

Recommended: Obama budget: why all the number crunching by OMB may be useless

The budget appendix is where you find out what’s really going on. It’s part of the budget proposal materials the White House submits to Congress every year. News reports focus on the budget top lines – the $3.7 trillion in total 2012 spending that President Obama just requested, and so on. The appendix shows you what’s beneath – far, far beneath. It notes the line-item spending for virtually everything the US government does.

In the appendix you can find out that the Department of Agriculture wants $12 million next year to dispose of brush in National Forests. You can find out that Congress has an attending physician whose office budget is about $3.2 million a year. And you can learn that the Army needs $16.6 billion to pay the salaries of its enlisted force in 2012.

It used to be hard to get a copy of the appendix (because it’s heavy and annoying to carry). But the Internet now makes it available to all.

Some might read it and find many instances of what they consider waste. Others might be reassured the government is hard at work on an array of stuff, most of it fairly reasonable.

Here’s a thought – maybe Congress should read the budget appendix out loud, in session. They did it with the Constitution. Why not the budget? They could go through it and debate the value of every line item.

It would keep them busy the rest of the year. Which might not be a bad thing.

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