NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Shovel-Ready Stimulus Sightings

December 6, 2010

At the time the stimulus bill was being debated and discussed, a common plea in its defense had to do with funding so-called shovel-ready projects to repair or replace public roads, bridges and other structures widely taken to be in a state of decay or disrepair.  Alas, only a tiny proportion of the funds expended so far have been directed to this well-advertised objective, says Robert Higgs, a senior fellow in political economy at the Independent Institute.

  • According to the government's website for tracking stimulus expenditures (, as of October 27, 2010, $464.2 billion had been made available to a long list of government agencies and $317.8 billion had been spent.
  • Of the total amount disbursed, 70 percent had been spent by three departments: $91.9 billion by the Department of Health and Human Services, $65.0 billion by the Department of Education, and $62.6 billion by the Department of Labor.
  • The Department of Transportation's outlays came to just $21.6 billion, or 6.8 percent of the total.
  • Other leading spenders of "stimulus" money have included the Department of Agriculture ($18.5 billion), the Social Security Administration ($13.7 billion), the Department of the Treasury ($7.9 billion) and the Environmental Protection Agency ($4.3 billion).

A common element of these government departments and agencies is their shortage of shovels, not to mention shovel-ready projects.  They also excel at dishing out subsidies to undeserving but politically potent special interests and paying handsome salaries and benefits to bureaucratic drones and wreckers on the government payroll, says Higgs.

So far, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has spent $733 million of the more than $1 billion allocated to it.  Is it possible to shovel outer space?

Source: Robert Higgs, "Shovel-Ready Stimulus Sightings," Independent Institute, November 24, 2010.

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