The Black Budget: Bigger Than Head Start, the Justice Department, and the Park Service Combined

The secret budget for the U.S. intelligence giant could pay for Head Start 5 times over. See what else it can do.

The seal of the Central Intelligence Agency sits on the floor of the foyer at the CIA Headquarters, Langley, VA on March 3, 2005. (National Journal)

President Obama rarely discusses the nation's vast surveillance and security apparatus by choice. He'd rather talk about lifting families out of poverty, protecting the environment, or modernizing the nation's crumbling infrastructure. But when it comes time to put a price tag on policy values, it turns out that surveillance spending dwarfs funding for programs that are more often featured in the president's stump speeches.

Surveillance spending is now more transparent because of the "black budget," a new leak from Edward Snowden analyzed by The Washington Post. As The Post writes, the $52.6 billion budget

maps a bureaucratic and operational landscape that has never been subject to public scrutiny. Although the government has annually released its overall level of intelligence spending since 2007, it has not divulged how it uses those funds or how it performs against the goals set by the president and Congress.

For the first time, we can really see exactly how this money is spent. Here's the breakdown of requests by program, obtained by The Post:

That comes to around $14.7 billion for the CIA (which, The Post notes, is nearly 50 percent larger than the budget for the National Security Agency), and is greatly above outside estimates), $10.5 billion for the National Reconnaissance Program (largely to the National Reconnaissance Office, which runs spy satellites), and $11 billion for the Consolidated Cryptologic Program (which includes the NSA).

Those budgets are all vast. But it's when you compare them with other programs and agencies that the differences slip into orders of magnitude, particularly when compared with what the president is proposing to spend on programs his liberal base cherishes:

The Black Budget Is...

1.6 times larger than The National Institutes of Health budget: Obama is asking Congress for $31.3 billion in 2014 for the National Institutes of Health, the federal government's premier medical-research organization.

1.9 times larger than the Justice Department's budget: The Obama administration has proposed a fiscal 2014 budget of $27.6 billion for the Justice Department. Justice does, however, get a 6 percent taste of the black budget. Still, the 2013 CIA budget alone is equal to more than half of the department's total 2014 request.

5 times larger than the Head Start budget: Obama's proposed 2014 budget for the Health and Human Services Department requests $9.6 billion for Head Start, an early-education program aimed at infants and toddlers from low-income backgrounds.

6 times larger than the budget for high-speed and other passenger-rail programs: The Transportation Department's 2014 request includes an average of $8 billion per year over the next five years for freight, high-speed, and intercity passenger rail, part of the administration's aim to give four of five Americans access to the nation's high-speed rail network within 25 years.

20 times larger than the National Park Service budget: The 2014 Interior Department budget request includes $2.6 billion for the National Park Service, the agency in charge of protecting the nation's 400-plus national parks and managing 84 million acres of public land.

31 times larger than the Securities and Exchange Commission budget: Obama is asking for $1.674 billion for the SEC, an independent board in charge enforcing many of the anti-financial-fraud and — since 2010 — partially overseeing the regulatory overhaul mandated by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Law.

34 times larger than the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service budget: The 2014 Interior request includes $1.55 billion for the Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency tasked with protecting most of the 1484 domestic species on the Endangered Species List, as well as managing 500-plus National Wildlife Refuges.

106 times larger than the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau budget: The CFPB — the Elizabeth Warren-designed consumer watchdog — says it plans to spend $497 million in 2014. The agency, which was born out of Dodd-Frank and charged with protecting consumers from predatory lending and other threats, has been a political flashpoint since it was created in 2010 and is a frequent feature of Obama's stump speeches on protecting the middle class.

But there's always a bigger fish...

But big though the "black budget" is, it can't stack up to the giants of federal spending: entitlements and defense.

The Congressional Budget Office projects the U.S. will shell out more than $500 billion to fund Medicare in 2014, along with another $300 billion or so for Medicaid.

The Defense Department's fiscal 2013 base budget request was for $525.4 billion, and — due to continuing budget resolutions — the department ended up netting $527.5 billion. And that doesn't include funding for Operation Enduring Freedom, which spent $86.5 billion in FY 2013, mostly in Afghanistan.