Tracking Transport Subsidies: As Tough as Following the Stimulus Money

The $787 billion economic stimulus effort was intended to be a model of
government transparency — but a privately run website called
Recovery.org soon began beating out the government in the race to trace federal dollars. Now, as the Pew Charitable Trusts begins to expand its Subsidyscope fiscal monitoring project, some similar gaps in spending data are emerging.

A
joint project of Pew and the nonprofit Sunlight Foundation,
Subsidyscope began its work with the financial bailout and plans to
release a map of the government’s transportation studies by this fall.

But as the site’s researchers noted in a recent release, some major pieces of the puzzle are missing from USASpending.gov, the online federal-finances monitor created in 2006 by legislation with a notable champion: then-Sen. Barack Obama:

A link to a discussion of "Data Quality" is displayed prominently on
every page of the site, but the actual mechanism by which
USASpending.gov tracks data quality seems woefully inadequate. The site
appears to simply measure the completeness of each record that is
reported to it. Identifying missing parts of a record is useful, but it
does nothing to identify when whole records are missing. … Currently there is no means by which USASpending.gov can
ensure that it is receiving all of the records it should be.

Two sizable pieces of the nation’s transport industry were altered in
government spending records, Subsidyscope found — Amtrak’s 2008 budget
was mysteriously halved, and the entire budget for the Merchant Marine
Academy was missing.

Those
discrepancies represent more than just a failure to comply with the
spirit of Obama’s 2006 transparency law; they also underscore the
daunting task of attempting to reform transportation policy in an age
of mammoth imbalance
between federal support for highways and transit, as well as an
ingrained resistance to changing existing patterns of infrastructure
investment.

The government’s thicket of counterproductive agriculture subsidies has been well-mapped by groups on the right and the left,
and Congress has still resisted any attempt to trim the system. Given
Subsidyscope researchers’ difficulty in getting their arms around
transportation spending data, cutting subsidies in that sector is
likely to be even more challenging.

  • If you want sunshine, please talk about the multi-billion dollar
    subsidies to the road and highway system which ultimately destroyed the initially private streetcar system and halved the number of route miles of the mainly private freight rail system.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

New Report: Feds Subsidizing Parking Six Times as Much as Transit

|
Both Images: Subsidyscope "Subsidy" is a word used quite often in transportation policy-making circles, whether by road acolytes who claim (falsely) that highways are not federally subsidized because of the gas tax or by transit boosters who lament Washington’s unceasing focus on paying for more local asphalt. But the subsidy debate often overlooks the government […]

New Report: Road Funding From Non-Road Users Doubled in 25 Years

|
(Image: Subsidyscope) The myth that U.S. roads "pay for themselves" thanks to user fees is a subject that’s likely familiar to many Streetsblog Capitol Hill readers — but just how much of the nation’s highway funding is provided by charging drivers? The answer may surprise even active critics of the current asphalt-centric transportation system. Between […]

Metro (Sort Of) Decides on Its Stimulus List

|
Today, the Metro Board of Directors passed a list of projects which it will use to apply for stimulus funds as they become available.  Their list, available at the end of this document, is actually quite a bit greener than one might expect with pages of bicycle, pedestrian and transit projects dominating the document and […]

Calpirg, Smart Growth America Slam State Stimulus Spending

|
When the government passed the stimulus bill last spring, it set a 120 day deadline for states to allocate at least half of transportation funds in the bill. As that deadline passes today, CALPIRG and Smart Growth America released a report detailing how California is spending its stimulus dollars. The news isn’t good.  Despite pretty […]

Less Than One Percent of Transpo Stimulus Money Paid Out So Far

|
The New York Times reports this morning that the Obama administration’s $787 billion economic stimulus package has hit a few snags: Some states and cities are beginning to complain that the money has yet to reach them. Others have been slow to get their paperwork to Washington; Virginia has yet to send the Transportation Department […]