Federal Spending Methodology

This document describes the process we use to display federal spending data. Note that our treatment of federal spending data is much simpler than that of campaign finance or lobbying. In particular, we don't do any aggregation or analysis of the data--we simply show the top 10 records that match on the organization name.


All federal agencies are required to report on spending to outside organizations. The agencies report this data primarily through the Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS) and the Federal Assistance Award Data System Plus (FAADS Plus). For FAADS Plus, agencies are only required to report contracts of over $25,000. These and other auditing systems are combined and made available to the public through the government-run site USASpending.gov. More information on this process is available here.

The underlying data provided by USASpending.gov is of inconsistent quality: dollar amounts are frequently incorrect, descriptions often missing and whole agencies fail to report at all. Please see Sunlight's Clear Spending project for a full analysis of the data quality problems. In addition, unlike other datasets on Influence Explorer, federal spending data does not report company names in any standardized manner. Because of this, we can not reliably determine the contracts and awards associated with a company.

Given these limitations, we have chosen not to do any analysis or aggregation of the data. Unlike the campaign finance and lobbying sections, there are no charts and total dollar amounts. Instead, the Federal Spending section contains a simple chart of the top 10 grants, contracts and loans that match on a search for the company name. Only grants, contracts and loans with amounts over $1 million are shown. Users may investigate the data further by following the links to the grants or contracts Data sections of Influence Explorer or USASpending.gov.

Data Notes

Influence Explorer divides federal spending into three categories: grants, contracts and loans. Contracts include all data from USASpending's contract database (FPDS). Grants and loans are drawn from USASpending's award database (FAADS Plus). Loans include any record with an assistance type of loan or insurance. Grants include all other assistance types.

For contracts, the dollar amount reported is taken from FPDS' obligated amount field. For grants, the dollar amount reported is taken from FAADS Plus' federal funding amount field. For loans, the dollar amount reported is taken from FAADS Plus' face value amount. Note that the actual cost to the government may be far smaller or the loan may even be profitable.