A few months ago, some rumors showed that Steve Ballmer was working on a project aimed at helping the general public get a better consensus of government spending. Those rumors can now finally be put to the side, as the former Microsoft CEO has officially launched USAFacts, the non-profit initiative which releases financial reports on how the government is being run (via GeekWire.)
According to the website, USAFacts was inspired by a conversation Steve Ballmer had with his wife. She had wanted him to get more involved in philanthropic work, and he thought it made sense to first find out what government does with the money it raises. Ballmer then searched for solid, reliable, impartial numbers to tell the story, eventually putting together a small team of economists, writers, researchers to get his project up and running.
We soon discovered that dealing with something as big and complex as government – with its more than 90,000 jurisdictions and 23 million employees – required an organizing framework. What better place to look than the Constitution, and, more specifically, the preamble to the Constitution? It lays out four missions: “Establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility; provide for the common defense; promote the general welfare; and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” While we don’t make judgments about policy, we all agree on the broad purposes of government as laid out in the preamble to the Constitution.
Based solely on government data, the interactive USAFacts website includes a 291-page slide deck, a 58-page summary document and also a report on governmental operations. The team which compiles the data for USAFacts reports includes academic institutions and experts. Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR), the Penn Wharton Budget Model, and Lynchburg College all contribute. According to reports, the USAFacts team is composed of more than 30 people, some of which are lawyers and accountants who used to compiled Microsoft’s financial reports. Ballmer remarked on his project (which is being financed with his own money) in an interview with GeekWire.
I don’t buy that we’re in a post-fact world… People talk about alternate facts, they talk about fake news … but the numbers are what they are. They tell us about the past. They give us the ability to judge the forecast that we all have for the future… There are a lot of reasons why people believe what they believe about issues of government and politics… But at least you have to ground those proposals in a real understanding of what has happened, and what the numerical outcomes have been in the past. And I don’t really think that’s going to change.
Ballmer was Microsoft’s CEO from 2000 to 2014, and admits to GeekWire that he is “surprised by some of the data uncovered by the project, including improvements in crime, emissions, traffic fatalities.” You can learn more about USAFacts by visiting the website here, so be sure to check it out and let us know your thoughts in the comments below.