The government spends billions of dollars per year on a dizzying array of gear and specialized services: office furniture, cloud computing, breakfast cereal, and advanced weapons systems are among destinations of taxpayer funds.
Well-heeled industries have risen to meet this need in the form of Beltway companies–firms located within the Interstate 495 Capital Beltway that wraps 64 miles around Washington D.C. through suburban Maryland and Virginia. It's big business to help the U.S. government administer benefits, fight fires, project military power, and otherwise carry out work across the globe.
This analysis, based on data published on Enigma Public, explores the geography of the nearly half-trillion dollars of annual contract spending among beltway firms and the thousands of regional and small-town competitors.
Hover over a district to explore federal contracting data
When the American government spends, it doesn't spend equally.
In Saint Clairsville, Ohio, the only contract in the entire Ohio 6th district worth more than $1 million is a Veterans Affairs contract for providing healthcare for a VA clinic.
In the NY-16 district encompassing the Northern Bronx–home to the highest poverty rate of any congressional district in the nation–there are only two major contracts. Both are for pharmaceutical products: zinc pills and dalfampridine, a prescription to address multiple sclerosis patients.
Meanwhile, Virginia's 8th district boasts 3,134 million-dollar-plus contracts. The district includes Alexandria and Falls Church across its territory of Arlington County and Fairfax County.
Washington D.C. (which retains only a non-voting delegate in Congress) hosted the highest count of million-dollar contracts: 4,206. But across the country, 34 districts were home to 10 or fewer million-dollar contracts. Of the 10 districts with the most contracts, eight are located in Virginia, Maryland, or D.C.
As part of the public record, government contracts give a granular survey of the priorities of Congress and the President that escape news coverage. For every program, such as the trillion-dollar F-35 fighter that has captured media attention, there are countless billion-dollar healthcare, IT, or administrative deals that deserve public scrutiny.
The single most lucrative contract action in the 2016 data awards nearly $3.3 billion to the Electric Boat Corporation in Groton, Connecticut, for several Virginia-class submarine hulls. Those vessels include the "Montana", "New Jersey", "Hyman G. Rickover", and eight other submarines. The nuclear-powered submarines cost $2.68 billion per unit.
We trust contractors with our deepest intelligence and security information. While the Navy's Naval Undersea Warfare Center didn't disclose the contractor that fell victim to Chinese hackers this year and lost "secret plans to develop a supersonic anti-ship missile," this contracting database shows four multi-million dollar contracts related to the group's technical and enterprise infrastructure needs. And Edward Snowden didn't directly work for the NSA, but rather was a contractor for Booz Allen Hamilton, which maintains 861 large contracts in the 2016 spending data.
And we spend hundreds of millions of dollars to contract out major Department of Energy laboratory operations, such as Battelle Energy Alliance, LLC's contract for operations at Idaho National Laboratory.
Hover over each product to explore contracts ⤵
This analysis uses
data published on
Enigma Public. It includes 2016 (the last year full data is available) federal government contracts greater than $1 million that were awarded to US-based companies and executed in the United States. Beltway includes cities with a geographic center in the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV Metropolitan Statistical Area.
These data represent only a portion of federal expenditures. The government spends money in a number of ways including contracting, grants, credit card purchases, direct transfers, and cooperative agreements.
Analysis and visualization by Ben Matheson.