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Did the White House Meet its Stimulus Goal?

The White House says it met its goal of spending 70 percent of the $787 billion stimulus package, but final numbers aren't in and five agencies have spent less than a quarter of their funds.

Updated: This post has been updated with the White House's full report.

Oct. 3: This article has been corrected.

The White House plans to release a report today announcing that it met its goal of spending 70 percent of the $787 billion stimulus package by the end of September. If so, there must have been a last-minute push to get more money out the door.

According to early news reports, the administration said it hit its goal by spending $309 billion and issuing $242 billion in tax cuts — exactly reaching the target of $551 billion.

But for that to happen, stimulus spending (excluding tax cuts) during the latter part of the month would have had to run 30 percent higher than average this year, according to our analysis of weekly stimulus spending reports from agencies.

Those reports still aren't in for the last week of September, nor are Treasury Department estimates of tax cuts for the month. We've put in a call to the White House media office asking how they back up their numbers but haven't heard back.

ProPublica has been tracking spending on our Stimulus Progress Bar since the spring of 2009.

Since the beginning of the year, direct stimulus spending has held steady, with about $16 billion a month going to contracts, grants, loans and entitlements. To reach the report's figures, direct spending and entitlements would have jumped $9 billion since Sept. 17.

Tax breaks -- which primarily include credits and incentives -- have also been consistent, averaging $20 billion a month the first half of the year and adding up to $223 billion by the end of June. In July and August, the total increase was only $10 billion -- a slowdown that Treasury attributed to revisions in earlier estimates and a normal drop-off that comes after tax returns are processed.

News stories said the White House claimed tax relief jumped to $242 billion, an increase of $9 billion over the August figures. Treasury has not yet released its quarterly tax estimates, which would include September, and would not provide a timetable for the release.

The Congressional Budget Office had predicted that stimulus spending and tax cuts would have hit $584 billion through September.

If we hear more from the White House, we'll let you know. Meantime, we wanted to highlight the five departments that have yet to spend a quarter of their stimulus funds.

  • The Department of Energy has been the slowest agency to spend its stimulus funds, as many of the agency's programs have been tied up by an onslaught of applications and regulations regarding prevailing wages, American-made materials, increasing electricity rates and environmental clearances. As of Sept. 17, it has spent only $7.6 billion of its $32.7 billion allocation. The slowest energy programs include the $3 billion "clean coal" carbon capture program, the $4.5 billion smart grid program and the $2.5 billion loan guarantee program to support clean energy projects.
  • The Department of Homeland Security has spent less than $500 million of its $2.8 billion allocation. When the stimulus bill was passed, the CBO estimated that Homeland Security would spend more than $1 billion by now. The slow spending comes from nearly every part of the agency. For example, Customs and Border Protection has paid out less than $50 million, even though it was authorized to spend $680 million to modernize ports of entry and deploy other border technology. That program was halted briefly last fall as news media and members of Congress questioned the plan to modernize little-used border stations in Montana and North Dakota instead of busy crossings along the southwest border.
  • The General Services Administration has spent $1.2 billion of its $5.9 billion allocation in stimulus funds primarily to build and update federal buildings. That's basically on target to the CBO's estimate of how fast the GSA would pay out funds.
  • The National Science Foundation has spent almost $600 million of its $3 billion allocation to support science and engineering research and education. When the bill was passed, the CBO estimated that the NSF would have spent $1.6 billion by now.
  • The Commerce Department has spent $1.6 billion of its $7.9 billion. The slow progress is largely a result of the administration's effort to expand broadband access, a program that was significantly enlarged in the stimulus package. The CBO estimated Commerce would spend $840 million on broadband by now, but it's actually paid out about a tenth of that.

Update: The White House released the full report, which says, "As of September 30, 2010, agencies and Treasury project that this goal will be met... Information regarding actual year end outlays and tax relief provided will be posted on on October 8, 2010."

Correction: Because of a typographical error, an earlier version of this post mistakenly said the administration claimed stimulus spending of $309 million. The correct figure is $309 billion.

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