Government budget decisions – what taxes to levy, what services to provide, and how much debt to take on – affect how equal a society is and the well-being of its people, including whether the most disadvantaged will have real opportunities for a better life. It is critical that governments inform and engage the public on these vital decisions that impact their lives.
The Open Budget Survey (OBS) is the world’s only independent, comparative and fact-based research instrument that uses internationally accepted criteria to assess public access to central government budget information; formal opportunities for the public to participate in the national budget process; and the role of budget oversight institutions such as the legislature and auditor in the budget process.
The survey helps local civil society assess and confer with their government on the reporting and use of public funds. This 7th edition of the OBS covers 117 countries.
This part of the OBS measures public access to information on how the central government raises and spends public resources. It assesses the online availability, timeliness, and comprehensiveness of eight key budget documents using 109 equally weighted indicators and scores each country on a scale of 0 to 100. A transparency score of 61 or above indicates a country is likely publishing enough material to support informed public debate on the budget.
The United States has a transparency score of 76 (out of 100).
Transparency in United States compared to others
United States’s ranking: 9 of 117 countries
How has the transparency score for United States changed over time?
Public availability of budget documents in United States
|Executive’s Budget Proposal|
How comprehensive is the content of the key budget documents that United States makes available to the public?
|Key budget document||Document purpose and contents||Fiscal year assessed||Document content score|
|Pre-Budget Statement||Discloses the broad parameters of fiscal policies in advance of the Executive's Budget Proposal; outlines the government's economic forecast, anticipated revenue, expenditures, and debt.||2019||Not Produced|
|Executive’s Budget Proposal||Submitted by the executive to the legislature for approval; details the sources of revenue, the allocations to ministries, proposed policy changes, and other information important for understanding the country's fiscal situation.||2019||95|
|Enacted Budget||The budget that has been approved by the legislature.||2018||39|
|Citizens Budget||A simpler and less technical version of the government's Executive’s Budget Proposal or the Enacted Budget, designed to convey key information to the public.||2019||Not Produced|
|In-Year Reports||Include information on actual revenues collected, actual expenditures made, and debt incurred at different intervals; issued quarterly or monthly.||2018||96|
|Mid-Year Review||A comprehensive update on the implementation of the budget as of the middle of the fiscal year; includes a review of economic assumptions and an updated forecast of budget outcomes.||2019||85|
|Year-End Report||Describes the situation of the government's accounts at the end of the fiscal year and, ideally, an evaluation of the progress made toward achieving the budget's policy goals.||2017||48|
|Audit Report||Issued by the supreme audit institution, this document examines the soundness and completeness of the government's year-end accounts.||2017||91|
The United States’ transparency score of 76 in the 2019 OBS is near its score in 2017.
The United States should prioritize the following actions to improve budget transparency:
Transparency alone is insufficient for improving governance. Inclusive public participation is crucial for realizing the positive outcomes associated with greater budget transparency.
The OBS also assesses the formal opportunities offered to the public for meaningful participation in the different stages of the budget process. It examines the practices of the central government’s executive, the legislature, and the supreme audit institution (SAI) using 18 equally weighted indicators, aligned with the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency’s Principles of Public Participation in Fiscal Policy , and scores each country on a scale from 0 to 100.
The United States has a public participation score of 22 (out of 100).
Public participation in United States compared to others
Extent of opportunities for public participation in the budget process
(supreme audit institution)
To further strengthen public participation in the budget process, the US Office of Management and Budget should prioritize the following actions:
The US Government Accountability Office should prioritize the following actions to improve public participation in the budget process:
The OBS also examines the role that legislatures and supreme audit institutions (SAIs) play in the budget process and the extent to which they provide oversight; each country is scored on a scale from 0 to 100 based on 18 equally weighted indicators. In addition, the survey collects supplementary information on independent fiscal institutions (see Box).
The legislature and supreme audit institution in the United States, together, provide adequate oversight during the budget process, with a composite oversight score of 83 (out of 100). Taken individually, the extent of each institution’s oversight is shown below:
The US Congress provides adequate oversight during the planning and implementation stages of the budget cycle. To further improve oversight, the following actions are recommended:
The emerging practice of establishing independent fiscal institutions
The United States’ independent fiscal institution (IFI) is the Congressional Budget Office. Its independence is set in law, and it reports to the legislature. It publishes its own macroeconomic and fiscal forecasts, and its own cost estimates of all new policy proposals.
*The indicators for IFIs are *not* scored
- Only documents published and events, activities, or developments that took place through 31 December 2018 were assessed in the OBS 2019.
- The survey is based on a questionnaire completed in each country by an independent budget expert:
750 1st Street NE, Ste. 700, Washington, DC 20002
- To further strengthen the research, each country’s draft questionnaire is also reviewed by an anonymous independent expert.
Show Open Budget Survey results for United States from: