• Views 929
  • Favorites
Photo by Markus Spiske via Unsplash

Database Provider


Dan Castrigano


Government, National Economy


9th, 10th, 11th, 12th


Social Studies, Civics


75 minutes

Regional Focus

North America, United States


Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Slides


This lesson plan is licensed under Creative Commons.

Creative Commons License

How Should the Federal Government Spend Our Money?

Created By Teachers:
Last Updated:
Feb 23, 2024
Ask a Question


This lesson plan connects intergenerational justice with the federal budget.

Step 1 - Inquire: Students watch a TED video by Roman Krznaric called “How to Be a Good Ancestor." It allows students to see sustainability from a future perspective.

Step 2 - Investigate: Students explore usaspending.gov and examine spending by federal agency in the fiscal year 2022. In groups, students design a budget for the federal government. Some students represent people living now while other students represent people living seven generations in the future.

Step 3 - Inspire: Students reflect on what it feels like to represent those living now and those living seven generations in the future. Finally, students share, comment, and deepen each other’s ideas and opinions.

Accompanying Teaching Materials
Teaching Tips
  • This is a powerful lesson connecting past, present, and future.
  • Students can have agency as to which group they'd like to represent: the present or the future.
Additional Prerequisites
  • The top 40 of 102 agencies by spending are included in the spreadsheet. The total (estimated) spending by all 40 of these agencies is $2,960,050,000,000.
  • The numbers presented at usaspending.gov are pretty messy. The attached spreadsheet rounds to cleaner numbers.
    • The numbers in red are rounded to the nearest billion.
    • The numbers in orange are rounded to the nearest hundred million.
    • The numbers in blue are rounded to the nearest fifty million.
  • Students may be missing some background knowledge. Be prepared to answer questions and/or do some research along with them.
    • For example, some students might not know the function of the Department of the Interior.
    • Feel free to use this site to look up the function of the major federal agencies. These are one-sentence explanations.
    • Feel free to also use this site from the White House where the major agencies (e.g., Agriculture, Defense) are outlined in one large paragraph. 
  • Note that one “agency” is simply called “unreported data.” That data is not made public. Students can simply leave that $8 billion alone.
  • Students will most likely not finish. This is not really a “finishable” activity. The main goal of this activity is for students to figure out the best way to allocate money to the major federal agencies.
  • It is not really worth it to discuss the really small expenditures like the Administrative Conference of the U.S.
  • Students can wear armbands or robes to show that they are representing the future. Some physical representation of their role is a very powerful reminder of who they represent.
Scientist Notes

This lesson asks students to analyze how the U.S. federal government splits its budget amongst all of the federal agencies. The website used to track the spending is routinely updated. This lesson has passed the scientist quality assessment.


Primary Standard

  • College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Standards
    • Dimension 2: Civics
      • D2.Civ.14.9-12 Analyze historical, contemporary, and emerging means of changing societies, promoting the common good, and protecting rights.

Supporting Standard

  • College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Standards
    • Dimension 2: Civics
      • D2.Civ.8.9-12 Evaluate social and political systems in different contexts, times, and places, that promote civic virtues and enact democratic principles.
Related Resources


Login to leave a review