Former Microsoft CEO Dives into Government Spending Data

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer   Jeff Gross  Getty Images

"But come on, doesn't the government take care of the poor, the sick, the old?"

Ballmer replied, "No, I'm not".

That conversation led Mr. Ballmer to pursue what may be one of the most ambitious private projects undertaken to answer a question that has long vexed the public and politicians alike.

He sought to "figure out what the government really does with the money", Ballmer said.

Like any corporate leader, USAFacts devotes a section of its report to the "risk factors" that could threaten the growth potential of the U.S. It highlights inadequate upgrades to the country's transportation system as a threat to government spending, not to mention the rising costs of programs like Social Security as more Americans reach retirement.

Incredibly, there is no existing database of government spending across the state, local and federal levels. For instance, you can see how many police are employed per region and run it against the crime rates in those areas. Or you could look up parking ticket revenue.

New initiative USAFacts aims to give transparency to what the state spends money on. And he's doing it by publishing data structured similarly to the 10-K filings companies issue each year - expenses, revenues and key metrics pulled from dozens of government data sources and compiled into a single massive collection of tables. "You can have your own reaction; I was a little surprised by that". "My experience tells me that if you are not open from the beginning, it's hard to go back and fix it".

The website - named USAFacts.org - became buggy on Tuesday, April 19, but not because of a flawed user interface - not quite. At the very least, it could settle a lot of bets made during public policy debates at the dinner table.

The site will continue to be updated with new data as it is released by government agencies, and will inform viewers which release of data the site is using from each source.

That lack of analysis is by design - the group's mission is to provide a "common set of facts on which even people with opposing points of view can agree" while avoiding financial or political agendas. "My hope is that Steve's initiative will serve as a flashlight for those fearless souls who trundle down the stairs in search of data-based facts over emotion-based rhetoric", he said.

Fast-forward to Tuesday, when Ballmer will debut his new initiative - compiled with the help of academics at places like Stanford University - during an event at the Economic Club of NY.

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