SubsidyScope Launches

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SubsidyScope, a new project by Economic Policy Department of The Pew Charitable Trusts, launches today. The purpose of SubsidyScope is to raise public awareness about the role of federal subsidies in the economy. Sunlight has partnered with Pew on the project — our job as consultants to them will be to create an open-source searchable online database of federal subsidies. The database will serve as a gateway for press, policymakers, advocates and the public to peer inside, industry sector by industry sector, the previously opaque world of federal subsidies. The first elements of the database won’t be available until the spring of 2009.

The database for SubsidyScope will include a broad range of  different types of subsidies and certainly will include direct payments made by government to businesses and individuals; tax breaks for corporations and individuals; and loan guarantees, as well as other types of financial support.

“The current financial crisis has led to historic market interventions by the federal government and has invigorated the national debate about the appropriate role of government in the economy,” said John E. Morton, managing director of Pew’s Economic Policy Department, in a press release. “Too often policymakers speak as if subsidies are limited to direct expenditures on assorted social programs. The reality is that increasingly they flow through the tax code and are not subject to the same level of public oversight. In our fiscally constrained environment-and with government interventions shifting new burdens onto American taxpayers-there is more need than ever for a comprehensive and transparent fact base to inform future discussions about subsidies.”

Jim Morris, veteran journalist and Sunlight program director, is heading up SubsidyScope on the database side. And a broad and bipartisan advisory board of budget, fiscal and transparency experts will provide guidance.

This project represents an exciting opportunity to shine a light on various ways that increasingly scarce federal resources are being spent. While we don’t know precisely what the data will show, as Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously said, ‘Sunlight is the best disinfectant.'”

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