The U.S. has a very transparent budget office. That’s a big deal.

January 24, 2013

We at Wonkblog love the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities like family, and we hope you do too. But did you know they have an international branch? The International Budget Partnership focuses on promoting budget transparency abroad, along with supporting programs to reduce poverty. Yesterday, they released the latest edition of their Open Budget Survey, a regular examination of the budget practices of a huge sample of countries in every region of the world. Here's the summary map:

Source: International Budget Partnership
( International Budget Partnership)

The U.S. does pretty well, but there are countries that do even better. New Zealand, the U.K., France, Sweden, Norway and, somewhat surprisingly, South Africa all best the U.S. South Africa actually topped the last survey in 2010, switching places with New Zealand this time around:


(International Budget Partnership)

So what could we do to boost our score? The survey knocks the U.S. on a couple points. We don't release a prebudget statement well in advance of the formal budget's introduction, which adds to uncertainty about policy and cloaks discussions around budget policy. Our reviews of past spending, both those prepared mid-year and at year's end, could be more detailed.

Most crucially, the report dings us for not putting out a "Citizens Budget," which IBP describes as "a simplified version of a budget document that uses nontechnical language and accessible formats in order to facilitate citizens’ understanding of, and engagement with, the government’s plans and actions during the budget year." All of the countries that best us on the survey put out such a document, though some of them, in particular France, are fairly stingy in terms of the data that document includes.

But overall, the document is a pretty strong vote of confidence in the federal government's transparency efforts. While not perfect, our budget offices beat just about every peer country, from Spain to Italy to Germany. We best India and absolutely crush China (Russia, curiously, actually does pretty well in this area). Features like this and the presence of reliable statistical agencies like the Bureau of Labor Statistics are real triumphs of governance, and worth being proud of.

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