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The Truth in Accounting



George Washington University


The Truth in Accounting

This nonprofit makes federal accounting data transparent and available

Courtney Buble


W.E.B. Du Bois once said, “When you have mastered numbers, you will in fact no longer be reading numbers, any more than you read words when reading books. You will be reading meanings.”

Truth in Accounting (TIA), a Chicago-based nonprofit founded in 2002, strives to do just that.


The nonpartisan, 20-person organization’s mission is to make federal financial information accessible to the public. TIA’s mission statement is “To educate and empower citizens with understandable, reliable, and transparent government financial information.”

TIA’s work is so important in today’s media as it faces much skepticism and is threatened by fake news. A Pew Research Center study from December 2016 found that 64 percent of U.S. adults believe fake news has led to a great deal of confusion about basic facts. The same study discovered that 43 percent of U.S. adults believe the public has a great deal of responsibility to stop fake news (compared to 31 percent with some responsibility and 24 percent with little/no responsibility).

With that being said, TIA produces annual assessments of each state’s financial status using information from every state. Through the State Data Lab users can read through the financial and demographic information themselves. Other resources of TIA are a database of the U.S.’s 50 largest cities financial state, pension database, customized reports, numerous studies, and a debt clock. The debt clock has two components. The first is the published U.S. National Debt and the second is “the truth.” “The truth” factors in assets and liabilities from the Financial Report of the U.S. Government, as well as unfunded Social Security and Medicaid promises.

TIA’s custom reports analyze a state or local government’s financial conditions. This can be accomplished through the following: data mining, pension analysis, and/or municipal or county debt burden per taxpayer.

Screenshot from TIA's website

TIA’s publications

TIA puts out a variety of publications that help readers better inform themselves of the world of finance. Jonathan Wilson, who does press and communications for TIA, reflected, “We believe one of the best ways to help people separate truth from fiction and to limit biases is by providing a range of media outlets.”

Morning Call, a mailing subscription, serves as an intermediary for governmental information by aggregation articles from various financial news sources. Bill’s Blog, (written by Director of Research Bill Bergman) involves an array of political and economic discussions based on the process of finding out financial truths. Lastly, Sheila’s Reflections focuses on transparency with government accounting. This is the work of TIA Founder and CEO Sheila Weinberg.

Why is this relevant?

Wilson writes two or three articles per week through, which is a community-specific network of publications. He reaches out to younger audiences to inform them of the importance of government finance. Notably, student debt is a topic that young people need to be aware of since that is a huge problem in this country.

“Financial transparency is relevant to everyone because it significantly impacts the lives of everyday people...Our State data lab shows Illinois being ranked last for trust in state government,” Wilson stated.

On July 7 Bergman published an article about the annual Chicago financial report for 2016. By law, this is required to be published by June 30, 2017. However the city neglected to do so.

Bergman called the Department of Finance and asked if the report would be published and if could obtain a copy. He was told to “hold on” and then the person never responded again. Wilson reflected that it’s instances like this that make citizens feel out of touch from their representatives; they cannot get the financial documents that are legally required.

In the era of Trump, we see the importance of financial disclosures and government transparency. However, Wilson explained that the Trump administration has not changed what they do on a daily basis. “TIA provides the information and we let the people come to their own conclusions,” he stated.

News isn’t always found in the headlines, but in the numbers.

This is how the "truth" is calculated

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