Tracking Tariff Suspensions


As my colleague Bill Allison has already pointed out, a page one story in today’s Washington Post – A Quiet Break for Corporations – pulls back the curtain on the little-known practice of tariff suspension bills introduced in Congress to help specific corporations.

Fortunately the story includes a link to the key source for their information on this, the website of the US International Trade Commission. If you dig through that site to this page you’ll find the complete list of tariff bills introduced in the 109th Congress, along with the sponsor, the date, and a description of the item for which the tariff is being suspended or reduced.

In all, there are just under 800 bills listed on that page, and each one has a link to a PDF file showing the bill itself, the agency’s analysis of its effect, and – most importantly – the name of the company requesting the break.

As the Post discovered, many of these companies have been active donors to the member of Congress who introduced the bill.

Washington Post reporter Joe Stephens and Sarah Cohen, the paper’s database editor, deserve serious kudos for uncovering all this. They clearly spent a lot of time and effort working with the data and mining it for news angles. (For that matter, the USITC deserves a big pat on the back for making this information available on the web.)

But the information the journalists have uncovered is far too valuable to simply appear once in a news story, then disappear – even if the story did wind up on page one of the Washington Post. This is exactly the kind of information that could be a huge resource for reporters, bloggers, curious citizens – even the small businesses (like the ones quoted in the story) that are getting the shaft while the companies with lobbyists and friends on Capitol Hill are getting the breaks.

That’s where Sunlight comes in. We’re currently putting the whole thing into a spreadsheet and database that we’ll post – hopefully within a day or two – here on the website, where anyone can download it and dig in.

UPDATE: It’s up. You’ll find it here.