As Congress Debates Cutting Deficit, Pew Releases New Comparative Charts on Federal Subsidies

As Congress Debates Cutting Deficit, Pew Releases New Comparative Charts on Federal Subsidies

Subsidyscope Charts Analyze Major Spending Types in Nine Economic Sectors

As Congress considers ways to cut the deficit, Pew's Subsidyscope project is releasing comparative charts on federal spending and subsidies in nine key economic sectors. The new charts include FY 2010 data from and the President's Budget on grants, non-competed contracts, tax expenditures, and loans and loan guarantees in the agriculture; education; energy; health; housing; national defense; natural resources and environment; science, space, and technology; and transportation sectors.

"As federal officials navigate the nation's current budgetary challenges, it is key that they have information that will allow them to make data-based judgments about spending, including federal subsidies," said Lori Metcalf, project manager of Subsidyscope. “While choosing how to allocate scarce resources, policy makers should take a critical look at the reality of how federal dollars are currently spent."

The new charts show stark differences in how the government directs resources across different sectors of the economy. Some key findings include:

  •  In examining the various spending types, the most money is spent through grants, totaling $822.6 billion across all nine sectors.  Within grants, the health sector receives the most support.

  • The housing sector contains six of the ten largest tax expenditures analyzed by Subsidyscope. However, the health sector has the single largest tax expenditure, the Exclusion for Employer Provided Health Care.

  • The education sector has the largest amount in direct loans, totaling $87.8 billion in FY 2010. Student loans comprise the majority of direct lending. However, the majority of loan guarantees are in the housing sector, totaling $812.2 billion in FY

  • The transportation and national defense sectors had the highest percentage of non-competed contracts relative to competed contracts, with transportation totaling $43.3 billion in non-competed contracts and national defense totaling $29.7 billion in FY 2010.

Methodology: Grants and contracts data are primarily from, tax expenditure data are from the Analytical Perspectives section in the President's Budget, and data on loans and loan guarantees are from the Federal Credit Supplement (FCS) section in the President's Budget.

Definitions: Grants are a form of direct expenditure that fund the most visible and recognizable type of government activity. Tax expenditures are government revenue losses resulting from provisions in the tax code that allow a taxpayer or business to reduce his or her tax liability by taking certain deductions, exemptions, exclusions, preferential rates, deferrals, or credits. A risk transfer program transfers some or all of the financial risk of an economic activity (such as borrowing money to go to college or buying a house) from a private entity to the federal government, and thus reduces the risk of undertaking that activity. The two main forms of risk transfers analyzed by Subsidyscope are loans and loan guarantees. Subsidyscope's definition of "non-competed contracts" includes contracts that are not subject to an open bidding process.

Subsidyscope uses federal data to populate searchable databases that enable users to search and sort grant, contract, and tax expenditure information within nine sectors. The compilation of data allows for easier comparisons of spending across and within economic sectors and provides an historical context. The databases include information going back to FY 2000. These databases are available at

The Pew Charitable Trusts  is driven by the power of knowledge to solve today's most challenging problems. Pew applies a rigorous, analytical approach to improve public policy, inform the public and stimulate civic life.