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A Stimulus Birthday Present: Our Spending Speed Chart

Stimulus Speed Chart
Stimulus Speed Chart

Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (PDF), otherwise known as the stimulus. We at ProPublica are taking note with a new interactive graphic. The Stimulus Speed Chart tracks how quickly individual federal agencies have moved stimulus dollars through the bureaucratic pipeline and into the economy.

Using the chart, you can find out two things: how much has actually been spent by each agency, and how much is in process but not yet out the door. The chart tracks the $580 billion in outlays appropriated; the other $212 billion in stimulus goes to tax cuts, which can’t be traced in the same way.

Several agencies stand out. The Social Security Administration and the Railroad Retirement Board each spent the bulk of their money last spring. But those two agencies are unique: Much of it went in one-time payments of $250 to beneficiaries. (Similarly, the Department of Veterans Affairs mailed $250 checks a month later, which you can see from the spike in the department’s spending line.)

But most agencies had to get new stimulus programs up and running. The Department of Energy has spent just 4 percent of its stimulus dollars and has nearly $20 billion yet to be obligated, almost half its total authorization. Other agencies with substantial amounts still unspent include the Departments of Defense, Interior and Homeland Security.

The Speed Chart also shows agencies that obligated their money early. By last summer, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Smithsonian, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Corporation for National and Community Service had each committed at least two-thirds.

In the face of stubbornly high unemployment, the Obama administration has faced pressure to spend stimulus money quickly. Last month, for example, Energy Secretary Steven Chu expressed frustration over his agency’s pace of spending. The Speed Chart shows where the bottlenecks are, but not necessary what’s causing them.

About reading the chart: Each agency’s progress is expressed as the percentage of its total stimulus appropriation either 1) paid out or 2) obligated to a specific project or program, but not yet spent (money we call "in process"). As we’ve reported before, the breakdown of appropriations by agency isn’t easy to come by, as there’s no single official tally. Special thanks to folks at the Congressional Budget Office and the Government Accountability Office for help with the math.

Go to our Stimulus Speed Chart.