GAO Now Tracking Spending Rate of Individual Earmarks

One of the most valid complaints about the practice of Congressional “earmarking” of special projects was that earmarked projects tended to spend more slowly than other projects, sometimes much more slowly. Part of this is inherent to the nature of an earmark – if a state or municipality already had the money and the inclination to build a project, it wouldn’t need an earmark. And in the past, earmarked projects often were not far enough along in the planning process for funds to be spent quickly.

Congress brought back earmarks in 2021 after a ten-year shame hiatus. This week, the Government Accountability Office unveiled its first attempts to track the spending rate of each individual earmark.

Congress appropriated a total of $9.1 billion for “Congressionally designated projects” (aka earmarks) in the fiscal 2022 omnibus appropriations act. GAO is tracking all of them, and reports that as of the end of fiscal year 2022, 33 percent of the money ($3 billion) had been legally obligated via the execution of a project agreement or the signing of a contract, and of that amount, $157.7 million had been spent via Treasury outlay.

(The stage of obligation is very important, because once an appropriation or some other kind of budget authority is legally obligated, it becomes too late for Congress to rescind that budget authority, and too late for the Administration to cancel it unless they can prove some kind of violation of the project agreement or contract in court.)

GAO has made available for download an Excel spreadsheet with a row for every single earmark in the 2022 omnibus. With that, we were able to draw some conclusions about the Department of Transportation earmarks from that bill.

Total Amount Amount Percent
Appropriated Obligated Outlaid Obligated
FHWA Highway Infrastructure Programs $846,927,823 $138,709,800 $1,098,817 16.4%
FTA Transit infrastructure Grants $200,798,267 $4,900,000 $0 2.4%
FRA CRISI Grants $120,860,000 $0 $0 0.0%
FAA Grants-in-Aid to Airports $279,180,135 $53,411,792 $9,809,624 19.1%
OST Transportation Planning, R & D $7,066,000 $0 $0 0.0%
Total, DOT $1,454,832,225 $197,021,592 $10,908,441 13.5%

Highway and and airport projects showed the highest obligation rates at USDOT, with 16.4 percent of the highway money and 19.1 percent of the highway money being put under contract before the end of FY 2022.

We also looked at water infrastructure project earmarks at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency:

Total Amount Amount Percent
Appropriated Obligated Outlaid Obligated
Corps Construction (General) $323,596,000 $58,880,570 $12,226,181 18.2%
Corps Construction (Gen. Provisions) $3,186,000 $263,595 $263,470 8.3%
Corps Investigations $18,232,000 $2,696,382 $1,912,210 14.8%
Corps Mississippi River System $86,733,000 $16,161,765 $802,584 18.6%
Corps Operations and Maintenance $151,836,000 $87,802,627 $18,530,656 57.8%
EPA State and Tribal Assistance Grants $841,405,095 $0 $0 0.0%

Hopefully, GAO will make this kind of spending rate reporting a recurring feature.

Search Eno Transportation Weekly

Latest Issues

Happening on the Hill

Related Articles

Balancing Act: The Next Generation of Mariners in the Maritime Industry

Mar 28, 2024 | Rear Admiral Ann C. Phillips, U.S. Navy (Ret.)
March 28, 2024 - Throughout my years of service as a Naval Officer I was frequently reminded that experience matters....

Senate Begins WRDA Deliberations

Mar 1, 2024 | Garett Shrode
March 1, 2024 - The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing to discuss the projects, programs...

House Panel Looks at Impacts of Red Sea Shipping Disruptions

Feb 2, 2024 | Kirbie Ferrell
February 2, 2024 - A House subcommittee this week looked at the impacts of Houthi missile launches on maritime shipping...

Year-End Defense Bill Contains Maritime Reauthorization

Dec 8, 2023 | Jeff Davis
December 8, 2023 - Next week, the Senate will vote on a 2,305-page, $874 billion national defense authorization bill early...

House Subcommittee Meets to Discuss Autonomous Maritime Technology, Submarines

Sep 22, 2023 | Kirbie Ferrell
September 19, 2023 - The House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation met to discuss the use of autonomous...

The History of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund

Aug 31, 2023 | Jeff Davis
August 31, 2023 - The story of the creation of, and changes to, the Inland Waterways Trust Fund

As Other Agencies Face Cutbacks, House Appropriators Give Corps Water Program 15% Increase

Jun 16, 2023 | Jeff Davis
June 16, 2023 - A draft bill approved in an House subcommittee yesterday would provide $9.6 billion in new funding...

Trade Subcommittee Discusses Strategies to Modernize Customs Policies

May 26, 2023 | Anusha Chitturi
May 26, 2023 - The House Ways and Means’ Subcommittee on Trade held a hearing on May 25 to discuss...

House T&I Approves 16 Surface and Maritime Transportation Bills

May 26, 2023 | Jeff Davis
May 26, 2023 - The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee this week approved sixteen bills making discrete policy changes to...

House Committee Reviews Port Cybersecurity in Latest Hearing

May 12, 2023 | Garett Shrode
May 12, 2023 - On Wednesday, May 10, the Subcommittee on Transportation and Maritime Security under the House Committee on...

House Committee Approves 2-Year Coast Guard Authorization Bill

Apr 28, 2023 | Jeff Davis
April 28, 2023 - The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on April 26 approved a bipartisan, two-year Coast Guard and...

Maritime Industry Discusses Ocean Shipping Reform and More

Mar 31, 2023 | Anusha Chitturi
March 31, 2023 - The House T&I’s Sub-committee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation held a hearing on maritime transportation...