USDOT Ended FY19 With $152 Billion in Undisbursed Cash

As part of closing the books on fiscal year 2019, which ended a little over two months ago, the Treasury Department has released the Combined Statement of Receipts, Outlays, and Balances of the United States Government. The Combined Statement shows granular detail of every appropriation or other budget authority made to every federal department and agency and shows how much or little of those appropriations were disbursed during 2019.

The detailed breakdown for the U.S. Department of Transportation shows that USDOT started 2019 with $157.2 billion in undisbursed funds, received another $76.1 billion in new funding during the year, and disbursed $80.7 billion. This, along with $420 million in lapsed funding, balance writedowns, rescissions, and transfers, left the Department holding $152.2 billion at the end of the year.

Much of that money is already spoken for – the federal government has legally obligated that money by signing a contract or a grant agreement, but since these are capital programs, they can take a long, long time to spend out.

The way the Combined Statement handles trust fund contract authority is a bit confusing, so we aren’t looking at that (though pages 8-12 of the USDOT breakdown are helpful in identifying which dead earmarks back in the day still have money left). But the Combined Statement does give some helpful light on the cash flow of general fund programs.

Railroads. The Federal Railroad Administration started the year with $2.7 billion in undisbursed balances and ended the year with $3.2 billion. The table below shows how quickly the grants to Amtrak are taken off the federal books (Amtrak is, technically, a non-federal entity, so signing a grant agreement with Amtrak has the result of writing them a large check almost immediately). But as of September 30, nary a dime of the fairly new Federal-State Partnership for a State of Good Repair had yet been disbursed. The also-new CRISI grant program hasn’t disbursed some money (a $110 million transfer appears to have gone to FTA, most likely for positive train control work for commuter railroads).

But FRA still has $1.3 billion on the books that was appropriated by Congress in 2009 (FY2010) for high-speed rail grants. $929 million of that is the unspent grant for the California High Speed Rail Authority which the Trump Administration has deobligated and which California is fighting in court to get back. The rest must belong to other projects which, hindsight, can fairly be said to have been less than shovel-ready in 2009.

Undisbursed Balances at FRA (Million $$)
End-of-FY18 New Lapses & End-of-FY19
Balance Appropr. Transfers Outlays Rescissions Balance
Federal Railroad Administration
Amtrak  – Northeast Corridor 13.4 +650.0 0.0 -645.5 0.0 17.9
Amtrak – National Network 12.6 +1,291.6 0.0 -1,288.0 0.0 16.2
High Speed Rail (FY10) 1,329.5 0.0 0.0 -25.9 0.0 1,303.6
Fed-State SOGR Grants 275.0 +400.0 0.0 -0.1 0.0 674.9
CRISI Grants 660.5 +255.0 -110.3 -5.7 0.0 799.5
Restor./Enhance. Grants 25.0 +5.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 30.0
Maglev Grants 0.0 +10.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 10.0
All other FRA 412.7 +340.1 +10.0 -374.2 -3.5 384.7
Total, FRA 2,728.8 +2,951.7 -100.3 -2,339.5 -3.5 3,236.8

Transit. The Federal Transit Administration started 2019 with $15.0 billion in undisbursed appropriations from the general fund of the Treasury and received an additional $3.5 billion in new appropriations. They only disbursed $2.9 billion, and after the aforementioned $110 million transfer from FRA and a $47 million rescission, ended the year with $15.8 billion.

The first thing that leaps out of the table below is that FTA still had a staggeringly high $7.2 billion of Emergency Relief funding undisbursed at the end of the year, and almost all of that dates back to the massive Hurricane Sandy supplemental appropriations act from January 2013, which provided $10.2 billion for transit aid to New York City.

Also, FTA only disbursed $1.83 billion out of the Capital Investment Grants account in 2019. This is down slightly from the $1.86 billion in 2018 disbursements, $1.91 billion in 2017, and $1.97 billion billion in 2016, and is way down from $2.24 billion in disbursements in 2015 per previous Combined Statements. There are several factors at play here: fluctuating appropriations levels, the slowness of the Trump Administration to sign new grant agreements (this has gotten better, but was noticeable in most of 2017 and some of 2018), and the suspension of the big Honolulu project.

Undisbursed Balances at FTA (General Fund Only)  (Million $$)
End-of-FY18 New Lapses & End-of-FY19
Balance Appropr. Transfers Outlays Rescissions Balance
Federal Transit Administration
Admin. Expenses 18.5 +113.2 0.0 -113.6 -0.9 17.1
Grants to WMATA 170.3 +150.0 0.0 -159.8 0.0 160.5
Formula Grants (TEA21) 104.1 +0.0 0.0 -8.4 -46.6 49.1
Transit Infra. Grants 834.0 +700.0 +110.3 -99.5 0.0 1,544.8
Capital Investment Grants 6,048.5 +2,552.7 0.0 -1,825.2 0.0 6,776.0
Emergency Relief (Sandy) 7,829.2 +10.5 0.0 -614.9 0.0 7,224.9
All other FTA 69.1 +5.0 0.0 -33.6 0.0 40.4
Total, FTA (GF) 15,073.6 +3,531.4 +110.3 -2,855.1 -47.4 15,812.8

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