How to balance the budget remains a tricky question, and one that highlights the ideological differences between most Democrats and Republicans. Should taxes be raised? Government spending cut?
Regardless of the approach, it’s important to first know how the U.S. spends its money. That’s why the team at Graphiq politics site InsideGov decided to take a closer look at the federal budget. Using data from the Office of Management and Budget, we ranked the federal government agencies that were allocated the most money in the 2016 fiscal year. The 2016 figures are estimates, according to the office's data.
The Office of Management and Budget provides government outlay data from 1962 to 2021. If an agency was established after 1962, the office lists spending attributable to predecessor agencies. Note that all figures are inflation adjusted to the 2009 value of the dollar, the year the Office of Management and Budget uses as its framework.
Remarkably, approximately half of all government outlays go to just two agencies: the Social Security Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services.
#10. Other Defense Civil Programs
Total Outlay (2016): $57,039,591,544
Some of the most notable civil programs in this category include the military retirement fund and the retiree healthcare fund. A comprehensive breakdown of the various civil programs can be found here.
#9. Department of Transportation
Total Outlay (2016): $69,716,947,330
Government outlays to the Department of Transportation are expected to rise dramatically over the next few years as the U.S. invests more in repairing its highway infrastructure and building new transit systems.
#8. Department of Education
Total Outlay (2016): $70,850,949,480
The Department of Education has stirred controversy during the 2016 presidential election, with candidates debating the role of the federal government in primary and secondary education.
#7. Office of Personnel Management
Total Outlay (2016): $84,094,410,605
Excluding non-civilian military personnel, the U.S. federal government employs over 2.7 million people. The Office of Personnel Management is responsible for recruiting and retaining that workforce. For reference, Wal-Mart, the country’s largest private employer, has 2.2 million employees worldwide.
#6. Department of Agriculture
Total Outlay (2016): $137,740,057,327
The Department of Agriculture leads initiatives on food, agriculture, land management and rural development. In 2008, the USDA’s budget jumped by over $2 billion, which may be partially attributed to the 2007-2008 world food crisis.
#5. Department of Veterans Affairs
Total Outlay (2016): $159,093,514,869
Since 2001, spending on the Department of Veterans Affairs has grown rapidly. Part of this is due to an aging veteran population, which has increased the department’s spending on medical care.
#4. Department of the Treasury
Total Outlay (2016): $484,034,396,273
The Treasury Department’s spending spiked during the Great Recession and is expected to reach new highs by 2021. The department recently made headlines with its proposed changes to the $20, $10 and $5 bills.
#3. Department of Defense - Military Programs
Total Outlay (2016): $516,237,907,560
Spending on military programs tends to be cyclical, rising during major wars or military engagements and falling during times of relative stability. In 2013, sequestration cut into the budget for the Defense Department. According to projections by the Office of Management and Budget, defense spending will continue to decline in the near future.
#2. Social Security Administration
Total Outlay (2016): $888,174,489,430
As the “Baby Boomer” generation ages, spending on Social Security has ballooned. The debate over how to manage these rising costs remains politically divisive.
#1. Department of Health and Human Services
Total Outlay (2016): $994,650,662,844
The Department of Health and Human Services accounts for over a quarter of all federal government spending, nearly twice as much as the Department of Defense. With an increasingly elderly population, spending on health programs such as Medicare and Medicaid is expected to grow, posing a major challenge to the country’s budget.
Research the Federal Budget on InsideGov