The federal government uses direct expenditures to implement many programs. Direct expenditures typically include direct transfers of money (e.g., cash grants) or goods and services (e.g., donation of government surplus). It does not include contracts for goods and services, which are covered in a separate category. Many federal agencies, such as the Department of Transportation and the Department of Health and Human Services, carry out most of their non-regulatory programs through direct expenditures.
While the federal government increasingly relies on tools such as loans, loan guarantees and contracts to get its work done, direct expenditures continue to be a significant portion of government spending. Indeed, they remain the most visible and recognizable type of government activity.
Collecting data on direct expenditure programs is easy. However, measuring the subsidies delivered through direct expenditure programs can be quite hard. Not all government programs contain a subsidy. Subsidyscope made its own assessment of transportation programs listed in the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance and determined most, but not all, program spending went to programs that contain a subsidy (see graph below). Further, not all the money spent on programs containing a subsidy is a subsidy. Finally, measuring a subsidy requires economic data, such as market prices for public goods, that may or may not be available.
Subsidyscope presents data on subsidies provided through direct expenditures where estimates are available. Regardless of whether the specific subsidy is known, Subsidyscope compiles data on direct expenditure programs that contain subsidies.
For direct expenditures, Subsidyscope extracts spending and other data from USAspending.gov (which supplanted the Federal Assistance Award Data System, or FAADS). Subsidyscope uses the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA) number to identify those programs of interest in the USAspending.gov database. Click here for a list of transportation programs in the CFDA and descriptive detail about each program. To search our database of spending through CFDA programs, click here. For help using the search functionality, consult our screencast.