Cool New App to Explore City’s Budget

The app is not as deep as it should be, but it does represent progress.

A screenshot of the citys new budget explorer.

A screenshot of the city’s new budget explorer.

The City of Philadelphia launched a really very cool new app today that makes it far, far easier to explore the city’s budget. It’s called Open Budget, and it’s both highly visual and intuitive and genuinely informative.

Users can drill down into each of the city’s funds to explore spending by department. The app shows you spending in this fiscal year and Mayor Nutter’s proposed budget for this coming fiscal year. Zoom in on the Fire department, for instance, and you see the department is budgeted for a big, 30 percent cut in spending on materials and supplies, while increasing spending on contractual services by close to 16 percent.

In some ways, it’s a slicker version of what Brett Mandel and Ben Garvey put together back in 2012.

But—and here come the caveats—the city’s version is not searchable, nor does it go anywhere near as deep into the spending weeds as Mandel and Garvey’s (now, sadly, outdated) app does. To return to the example of the Fire Department, you can see in the city’s app that the department is budgeted to spend $5.9 million on contracted services, but you can’t drill down any further. But the data to go deeper exists, and indeed, in Mandel’s version of the budget app, you could click down to the individual expense line (example: $378,597.20 to Xerox in August, 2011).

Which means that the new app, though welcome, is best used as a tool to better understand the broad parameters of city spending than as a serious research tool. It’s progress, yes, but it would be nice to see the second iteration go deeper.