Government is an organization that is authorized to enforce laws and policies on behalf of the people it serves. It consists of three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial.
The Federal Government is the supreme law-making body in the United States and has many responsibilities, including setting national policy, raising funds to pay for programs and services, and overseeing military operations. State governments are modeled after the Federal Government and may have additional responsibilities and functions. Local governments touch citizens’ lives through numerous services addressing critical aspects of daily life. Greater government transparency is essential to empower citizens with information about how their tax-payer dollars are spent.
Every two years, the Federal Government holds elections for members of Congress and the President. These are conducted by the Department of Justice and run on a calendar that coincides with state and local elections. State and local governments also have their own elections to determine representatives, county and city officials, and other local leaders. The Constitution of the United States requires that all State and local governments uphold a republican form of government.
Each year, the Federal Government creates a budget for the next fiscal year. The President submits a budget proposal to Congress in February and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office publishes independent analyses of federal spending and economic issues. Congress then works to establish funding levels for federal agencies. The final appropriations bills are passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by the President.
The federal government spends more than half of its money on mandatory spending such as Social Security, Medicare, and veterans benefits. Congress sets funding levels for these programs each year and the rest of its spending is on discretionary spending and interest expense on debt held by the federal government.
The right of citizens to request information from their government is protected by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). However, a lot of information is still difficult for citizens to access. Many don’t know where to begin and feel the process is too slow. Ultimately, a lack of information deters citizens from requesting information, which hurts government transparency. Fortunately, we can all work together to improve our country’s ability to make public information more easily available. In doing so, we can ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to participate in our democracy.