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Think you can fix the Obama economy? Try the Federal Budget Challenge

November 13, 2009 |  7:08 am

Sarah henry next ten
It's no mystery that the U.S. economy is a mess. Why is there a budget crisis? Well, spending a lot of money is a large part of it. But fixing that is more complicated.

The Federal Budget Challenge is a Web application that aims to help Americans get an idea of the complexities facing the Obama administration.

It's a game of sorts that lets players choose which programs to cut or add in hopes of balancing the federal budget. The system breaks down the financial effects of each choice.

We caught up with the development team in Palo Alto for a demo on Wednesday. Sarah Henry, program officer for developer Next Ten, said the product is primarily an educational tool.

The nonprofit organization is collecting plenty of data from the thousands of people who have taken the test so far. Players are asked for demographic info, including age and ZIP Code, which make for some interesting statistics when combined with feedback about programs like the proposed "public option" in healthcare legislation.

"It's not scientific," Henry said. So the team isn't paying too much attention to the responses. "It's not so much about feedback as it is learning new things," she said.

Initial responses have been mostly positive, Henry said.

The few complainers were a mixed bag. Some said the choices were too simple, and they'd like more think-outside-the-box options. Others said it was too long and overly complicated. Can't please 'em all, Henry said.

Next Ten is licensing its platform to cities, including Los Angeles, which plans to release its own version. The Times built a similar app earlier this year called State Budget Deficit.

-- Mark Milian

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Photo: Henry, Next Ten program officer. Credit: Mark Milian / Los Angeles Times