Oddities in the House Expenditures Report

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This is part of my research into the cost of expanding the U.S. House of Representatives. I’m trying to calculate average spending by the representatives in each state. This is spending for their travel, office staff, and so on. The objective is to figure out how the total cost of running the House change when the number of representatives increases. In economic terms, I’m trying to estimate total and average cost curves for various sizes of the House.

The latest data is for the calendar year 2021.[1] Data is available via link from here. All you really need is the data for the period October 1 through December 31 because the tables include year-to-date totals. The fourth quarter’s YTD figures are also the annual total for that year. A typical entry looks like this:

Oddities in the House Expenditures Report

Typical entry for spending by a House member. (click for larger image)

There are a few things to note about the data. First, the state and district are not listed. Luckily Wikipedia has a list of current House members. Second, the “Organization” column includes an honorific, first name, middle initial, last name, and (occasionally) Jr., Sr., II, III, IV, and probably a few others. The first thing I did was create a last name field using a rather complicated Excel function. The basic process is to find the last blank space in the text and extract whatever comes after that. If there is a Jr., etc., I entered the last name manually. (Somewhere I have a script that handles these exceptions as well as some other formatting issues. It just wasn’t worthwhile translating it into Excel VBA.) I’ll also add a “State” column so I can easily repeat this process with different cost figures.

Finally, the “Program” and “Description” columns are obscure. After some experimentation, I settled on “OFFICIAL EXPENSES OF MEMBERS TOTAL” figure to use for my first try at projecting the cost to various House sizes. I may try to separate travel from everything else since travel should depend on how far the state is from Washington, D.C. Hawai’I’s two representatives probably spend more on airfare than New York’s. After all, I’ve spent two years working on this. What’s another month or two?

But There’s More!

In addition to the expenditures for individual representatives, there are many other categories. The data for House reps is in rows 326 through 6079.[2] That’s 5,754 rows, an average of 13.228 rows per member. That’s unfortunate. Anyone who has worked with Excel will recognize the implications of that number not being an integer. If every representative had the same number of rows I could have simply incremented the row number by that figure to do calculations. Nobody ever said life would be fair.

But there are 6,521 rows of data. What in the world could the additional 766 rows contain?

Rows 6080 through 6521 include committee spending, childcare expenditures, spending for various caucuses (including the infamous Blue Dog Coalition), spending on communications services and hardware, services (including the House barber), and a host of other categories. I’ll just call these “Committees, etc.” The first 324 rows cover expenditures for the Speaker of the House, the House Majority Leader, the House Minority Leader, the Majority and Minority Whips, and other executive activities. I’ll call these Executive.

Total expenditures on the House in 2021 were $2,468,564,057.76. About 71% of that ($1,754,905,250.94) was on activities of Representatives. The other 21% ($713,658,806.82) was for the other activities outlined above. Here’s the breakdown:

Oddities in the House Expenditures Report

House Expenditures 2021. (Click for larger image)

And here are the numbers:

House Expenditures 2021 Oddities in the House Expenditures Report

House Expenditures 2021. (Click for larger image)

As always, click here to download my Excel workbook.

Endnotes

  1. The federal government’s fiscal year runs from October 1 to September 30. But the House expenditures are reported quarterly using the standard calendar. I have no idea why.
  2. The number of rows is those actually containing data for Q4. The Excel worksheets for Q4, Q3, Q2, and Q16.567 have 6,522, 6,815, 6,567, and 6,063 rows respectively. These figures include row 1 where I always put titles. I’ll discuss the implications for my workload below. For now, just note that cell numbers for any specific item may vary across the four quarters.

 

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About Tony Lima

Retired after teaching economics at California State Univ., East Bay (Hayward, CA). Ph.D., economics, Stanford. Also taught MBA finance at the California University of Management and Technology. Occasionally take on a consulting project if it's interesting. Other interests include wine and technology.