Questions and Answers

The Data (answers provided by Visualizations Challenge Submissions Judging


The Data

Answers provided by
Who are you, and what’s your site all about?
We are Andrew and Louis, two computer engineers from Minneapolis in the analytics field. Both political enthusiasts, we found it frustrating that there was no easy way to browse the federal budget, and even if you looked at the numbers it was hard to relate to spending because it’s in “billions” and “trillions” of dollars. We believe that this disconnect between the people and where their tax money is being spent has contributed to increased inefficiencies in government, special interest influence, and lack of political participation. Our website, allows you to easily browse the federal budget and see where the amount of money you contribute through taxes is being spent. Our goal is to make government spending more understandable so that our citizens can be better informed, exploring objective data rather than listening only to political rhetoric.
Why did you get involved in the Data Viz Challenge?
There are as many ways to tell a story as there are storytellers. Our website displays the federal budget in one particular way, yet there are many different ways that people learn, whether mathematically or visually. We’re excited to share our data with your creative minds to see how you tell the narrative of government spending or an aspect of it from another perspective.
Where does the data come from?
We took the publicly available federal budget data from the Government Printing Office website and built a database model that organizes it making it easy to browse by year, spending type, bureau/agency, and function/subfunction. We then wrote a computer program (ETL) to add up account-level budget spending for each organizational and functional level by year and spending type as well as perform other calculations, such as the percent of change in spending over the previous year.
How do you know the data is accurate?
Once we finished building our database and populating it, our next step was validating our math. We randomly sampled over a hundred records at different levels, whether an account-level record or the sum of spending for an agency. This was a manual effort and took dozens of hours. Through this process we confirmed that our numbers were adding up accurately. We also have a special feedback section on our Discussion Boards for reporting any issues you may find with our data and we will quickly respond. We’re very confident in our data and we invite others to validate it!
Does the budget data refer to planned amounts or actual expenditures?
We use the budget authority data which is the planned/allowed spending instead of the outlays data which is the actual transactions. This is important for several reasons. For example, congress may authorize a $50m bridge but the payment transactions may be spread across several years in varying amounts, making it more difficult to interpret budgetary decisions. Additionally, congress spends most of their time focusing on the budget authority. We’re interested in what the check is being written for and for how much, not when it arrives in the mail.
Where do the spending category names come from? Do they accurately describe where the money actually goes?
The category names are produced by the United States federal government. Just how accurate these names are is a matter of debate. We felt that retaining the original names was the most objective approach we could take.
The government’s money comes from more places than just income tax — does the API take this into account when calculating an individual’s contribution to the federal budget?
Yes. The government’s revenue comes from many sources, whether custom duties or corporate income taxes. When calculating individual contributions, we calculate the dollar amount of your contributions and then compare this to the total tax revenue of the federal government so that we are accurately calculating your contribution.
You provide receipt figures as well as expenditure figures — what's the difference?
We have two types of federal budget data available, spending and receipts (revenue). The federal government plans and authorizes spending, whether for running a government agency or funding a project. But they also take in money from many different revenue sources, such as personal and corporate taxes, to pay for those expenditures. Together, spending and revenue data help complete the picture of money flowing in and out of the government.
How frequently is the data updated? Will it change in the future?
Whenever the federal government updates their federal budget data, we update our data.
How can I view where my taxes go right now?
Visit our website, which allows you to enter your income and see where your tax dollars go!
Does the data have an API? How does it work?
Yes! Check out the API documentation here.
I have more questions... do you have a forum where I can ask it?
Absolutely! Throughout the challenge we’ll be answering your questions on our forums at


What is considered a “data visualization?”
A data visualization represents numbers in a graphical form, translating numeric quantities into visual figures. These graphical forms can be simple or complex, broad or detailed, but they should bear some legible relationship to the underlying data.
Can I use additional data sets?
Only the data set / API may be used for the numerical data in your visualization. You may, however, include non-numerical external material (text, links, images, etc.) as long as you have the legal right to use that material. You may also include data created by your visualization itself. Your entry will only face disqualification if it uses external numerical data.
The reason we have this requirement is to focus the challenge on a specific data set, which will make it easier to compare entries — we want this challenge to judged on the quality of the visualizations, not the quality of the data used to make them.
Clarification (13 March 2011): You may include external information or media to label or represent the budget data, in order to make it more relatable or understandable (for example, using slices of fruit to represent parts of the budget). However, any submission seen as using new and significant information other than what is available in the API may cause your project to be disqualified.
What form can my visualization take?
A range of media will be accepted: interactive web apps, graphic images, motion graphics, or video. Note that if you do create an interactive app (Javascript, Flash, etc.), it must function in a normal browser environment (current versions of Chrome, Safari, Firefox) and you must host it on your own site (see below).
How will my visualization be hosted?
Your project’s hosting depends on the media used. If you create a standalone graphic, we can host it on this site directly. If you create a video, it can be uploaded to YouTube or Vimeo for hosting and embedded on our site, or you can embed it on your own page and provide a link. If you create an interactive web page or app, you are responsible for hosting it on your own page. In all of these cases, it will have a page on this site with images or screenshots, optional embedded video, and a link to the full version if applicable. Should you be selected as a challenge finalist, we will contact you to discuss further hosting options, such as moving your project to our site, to ensure that your page can handle an increased traffic load.
Under what copyright is my visualization published?
You will be asked to choose a Creative Commons license under which your visualization will be published. Generally, this means that your work can be shared, reused, and republished by us and others, as long as you are attributed. You may not require compensation for the republication of your entry.
Your project may use assets or software libraries as long as they are published with a Creative Commons or equally permissive license (such as BSD or Open Source) that does not conflict with the licensing of your submission.

Challenge Submissions

Who is eligible to enter?
Visualizations may be created by individuals or teams of up to 8 people. However, each entry must have a primary contact person (full legal name and valid email address). This person will be issued the winnings check, should you win. To be eligible, this person must be 18 years old or older and must be a U.S. resident. See the Official Rules for details.
Can I submit more than one entry?
Each entrant can submit up to 2 entries in total, either as an individual or as part of a team (2 entries as an individual, 2 entries as part of a team or teams, or 1 entry as an individual and one entry as part of a team).
Can I submit my own entries in addition to my team’s entries?
No, you may only submit two entries in total. A team entry that you participated in creating counts towards that total, even if you are not the primary contact person for the entry.
Why is the challenge restricted to U.S. residents?
We understand that this challenge is of interest to a global audience. However, complying with the laws and regulations for competitions is complex in one country, let alone complying with the laws of 195+ countries. Therefore, participation in the challenge is restricted to U.S. residents.
Can I edit my entry after I’ve submitted it?
In general, no — there is no mechanism built in to edit your entry after it is submitted. However, if you need to make minor but important changes (e.g. you misspelled a name, you used the wrong link), please email us. Make sure you use the same email address as the Primary Contact for your submission, so we know it belongs to you.
How will I know if I’ve won?
We will get in touch with the primary contact of each finalist between April 9 - 18, 2011. The winning entries will be publicly announced on April 18, 2011.


How will entries be judged?
The entries will judged on the basis of five criteria: storytelling, clarity, relevance, utility, and aesthetics. For more detailed descriptions of these criteria, please see our Challenge Details page.
Who is on the jury?
The jury is made up of 11 experts in the field of data visualization. Representing a cross section of the field, they are artists, journalists, curators, data analysts, and software engineers.

Our jury includes:

  • Brooke Singer* (Eyebeam Fellow) is an artist who works across disciplines to create platforms for local knowledge to connect, inform and conflict with official data descriptions. She is currently working on a book of photographs as part of ongoing work with her project Superfund365.
  • Mark Shepard* (Eyebeam Fellow) is an artist, architect and researcher thinking about pervasive media, architecture and urbanism. Work related to Mark's current project, The Sentient City Survival Kit includes his transmediale Award 2011 nominated iPhone App, Serendipitor, and the new publication Sentient City: Ubiquitous Computing, Architecture, and the Future of Urban Space.
  • Aaron Koblin* is an artist specializing in data and digital technologies and leads the Data Arts team at Google. Two of Aaron's data-driven music videos have been nominated for Grammy Awards and he has work in the MoMA and Pompidou.
  • Cliff Kuang* is the editor of Fast Company’s design site, Co.Design, and has written regularly for WIRED, Popular Science, and Good.
  • John Keefe* is a journalist who specializes in information design and design thinking, and is the Senior Executive Producer for News at WNYC in New York.
  • Josette Melchor, Executive Director and Co-Founder of Gray Area Foundation for the Arts (GAFFTA).
  • Andrew Johnson + Louis Garcia, project creators.
  • Jonathan Jarvis, is a new media designer focused on making information accessible, relevant, and beautiful. He is currently a Designer at Google Creative Lab and is the author of The Crisis of Credit Visualized and creator of The New Mediators.
  • Adam Bly, Founder, Seed &
  • Amanda Cox is a graphics editor at the New York Times.
*indicates project steering committee member

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