International Comparison Ranks U.S. Well on Budget Transparency

A new international comparison of budget transparency ranks the U.S. among the world's leaders, but highlights some areas for improvement.

Money bag

The Open Budget Survey, released today by the International Budget Partnership (IBP), ranks the U.S. 7th out of 94 countries studied. The U.S. scored 82 out of 100 points, which placed the U.S. in the top category, "Extensive Information;" but the U.S. was the lowest-scoring country in this category. The survey's U.S. data was collected by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The survey measures "the public availability, timeliness, and comprehensiveness of a country's budget reports," as well as the effectiveness of oversight institutions. Among the survey's criteria are information about revenues, expenditures, debt, and performance of budget targets. The survey does not assess procurement issues or the accuracy of information.

The survey was previously conducted in 2008 and 2006, when the U.S. scored essentially the same.

The U.S. received demerits for not producing two of IBP's eight "key budget documents":

  • a Pre-Budget Statement, a preview of "the broad parameters that will define the government's budget," released in advance
  • a Citizens Budget, "a nontechnical presentation of a government's budget that is intended to enable the public ... to understand a government's plans"

Given the primary role and independence of Congress in budgeting, however, the need for a preview of the president's budget proposal may be weaker than in other countries. For all the criticisms of the U.S. budget process, nobody complains that it moves too fast. However, the idea of providing simpler, but still comprehensive, information about the budget is worth exploring. (A taxpayer receipt might be a start.)

Image by mcol from OpenClipArt. In the public domain.

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