The Corner

$24 Billion Worth of Ex-Im Money Goes to Export ‘Unknown’ Products

In the last weeks, I have been producing a series of charts looking at where the Ex-Im money goes, what or who the biggest Ex-Im lenders or corporate beneficiaries are, and what kinds of goods and services do the Bank primarily assist in financing. Not surprisingly, large corporations and large banks are the biggest beneficiaries of the Ex-Im Bank. 

But more surprisingly, a recurring feature of these charts is a category called ”unknown,” a consistently popular destination for Ex-Im goodies. See this chart series, for instance, and this chart in particular:

When you pull data from the Export-Import Bank’s data on project applications from FY 2007 to FY 2014 to display the bank’s top ten portfolio items by type of product, the second-most-supported industry over the past seven years ends up labeled “unknown.” Fourteen percent of the Bank’s total assistance — $24.3 billion worth — since 2007 isn’t coded in the bank’s public records. The “unknown” category also shows up in charts of top exporting-firm beneficiaries, and top lenders. (Most entries with “unknown” cells have other information to clarify what they are, but the empty fields make the data much harder to use.)

If you add the sloppiness of the data the bank does release to the bank’s lack of transparency and its refusal to share important data like default rates, taxpayers should be left wondering whether it deserves our trust and why Congress hasn’t demanded some changes.

If you want to read some of the most devastating criticisms of the Ex-Im Bank along these lines, read its inspector general’s reports (here, here and here).

Veronique de Rugy — Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

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