Your Tax Dollars at Work in 2013

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Top Drawer Ink’s July 2005 article Your Tax Dollars at Work asked the question: Ever wonder where your tax dollars are going? In that article, we listed the budgets of three US government departments (Agriculture, Education, and Homeland Security) to highlight how congress spends your money.

In this update, we ask a different question: What is discretionary and mandatory spending?

Here’s the answer: Mandatory spending is fixed unless previously enacted laws are changed. Discretionary spending is adjustable on a yearly basis. In general, mandatory spending, which includes social security, medicare, veteran’s benefits, and food assistance, accounts for approximately two-thirds of all government outlays.

And here are the updated figures for the same three departments, seven years later.

Department of Agriculture

Overview: The USDA was founded in 1862 by President Lincoln. Programs handled by the department through twenty-three agencies include food stamps, school lunches, school breakfasts, and the Women, Infants and Children program for poor mothers. The USDA also oversees national forests, conducts research into human nutrition and crop technologies, ensures open markets for US agricultural products, and provides aid to needy people in foreign countries.


2005 Appropriated: approximately $95 billion

2013 Estimated Total Outlays – Discretionary and Mandatory: approximately $155 billion

Department of Education

Overview: Created in 1980, ED’s fourteen agencies focus on education issues, distribute federal aid to educational facilities, provide grant assistance, and service approximately 49 million students attending more than 98,000 public schools and 28,000 private schools.


2005 Appropriated: approximately $73 billion

2013 Budget Request – Discretionary: approximately $69.8 billion

Department of Homeland Security

Overview: Created in 2002, DHS and the seventeen agencies under its direction are supposed to protect our nation from threats and hazards, safeguard and secure cyberspace, safeguard our borders, and manage and co-ordinate a response, not only to acts of terrorism, but also natural disasters. The Federal Emergency Management Agency became part of DHS in 2003 and provides assistance for earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and other hazards through its Disaster Relief Fund, which is funded separately.


2005 Appropriated: approximately $41 billion

2013 Budget Request – Discretionary: approximately $39.5 billion

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