House Spending Data Shows Where the Staff Are

As DemandProgress' Daniel Schuman reports, the House just began publishing its spending reports online as data. The House's "Statements of Disbursement," which show who how much money Congress spends on its operations, have been online in PDF format since 2009. Now the statements are available as CSV files, which one can open with Excel or a similar database program. This is great news, in that it enables those outside Congress to more easily mine the data and analyze them.

The statements are detailed---one can see how much a particular congressional office spent on office equipment, or what a committee spent on travel. Schuman points out the value of these data:

"Among the most powerful stories it can tell include looking at patterns in congressional staff pay, staff turnover rates, the best and worst members to work for, issues arising from the revolving door, corruption, and a full accounting of all congressional staff in the form of a free staff directory. Seamus Kraft of the OpenGov Foundation used it to identify trends in information technology spending. Of course, the information can be used for silly or counter-productive purposes, such as reporting on how much then-Speaker Pelosi spent on flowers, member spending on bottled water, etc."

For those of us interested in congressional capacity, the data also detail who works for whom, in what position, and how much they are paid. Thus, for example, we can see the Speaker spent $1.4 million on staff in the first quarter and the Minority Leader spent $1.3 million. Meanwhile, Rep. Ralph Abraham (R, La) logged $204,000 in employee expenditures, and the Committee on Agriculture spent $925,000 in the first quarter of 2016. A worthy research task would be to cut and compile these data to map the staff spending topography across the House's committees and leadership. The results would help clarify the relative staff power within the chamber, and serve as a basis for considering staffing levels vis-a-vis jurisdictional responsibilities.

To date, the Senate's not made its disbursements available as data. One hopes the chamber will step up to fix this soon. If the data can be compiled in PDF reports, certainly they can with little to no cost be integrated into usable data.

The House spending data are at http://disbursements.house.gov/.