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 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, 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 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 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.


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Today’s Headlines

Why is a federal energy efficiency push such a big deal? Because states like Wyoming see conservation as a national and local issue, not one to be solved at their level (NYT) New Subsidyscope report finds that Amtrak loses an average of $32 per passenger (AP) Congressional impasse over long-term federal transportation legislation is having […]

Today’s Headlines

Fossil fuel burners resort to an innovative new strategy to defeat climate legislation, prodding their employees to become grassroots lobbyists (The Hill) The World Series is sparking another kind of competition — between local transit agencies that want to help shuttle the crowds ( Friends of the Earth remakes that catchy "I’m Just a Bill" […]

Senate Requires Environmental Approval For Stimulus Projects

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Do Drivers Cover the Cost of Roads? Not By a Long Shot

David Alpert at Greater Greater Washington shares this fantastic chart from a new study of transportation funding by the Pew Charitable Trusts [PDF]. Alpert explains: This chart from Pew shows where the transportation money comes from; it’s not all drivers. Basically, the bluish areas are revenues which come specifically from drivers: gas taxes, vehicle taxes, and tolls. […]