Steve Ballmer’s $10 Million Government Data Website Launched

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, in partnership with the Penn Wharton Budget Model at the University of Pennsylvania, the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, and Lynchburg College, has launched a website dedicated to government transparency.

Three years in the making and launched on Tax Day, the site, USAFacts, presents federal, state, and local data from more than seventy government sources related to revenue, spending, balance sheets, public-sector employment, government-run businesses, and trust funds and pensions. In addition, a 10-K report (170 pages, PDF) — modeled on the Form 10-K, which public companies are required to submit annually — presents combined U.S. federal, state, and local governments' revenues, expenditures, and key metrics for the fiscal year ended September 20, 2014, as well as factors that could affect future performance. The site and the USAFacts Annual Report 2017 (291 pages, or summary, 59 pages) provide analyses of government finances and employment against key metrics derived from the four federal government responsibilities defined in the U.S. Constitution: "establish justice and ensure domestic tranquility; provide for the common defense; promote the general welfare; and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity." For example, the latter category includes twenty-nine charts related to education, forty-seven related to sustainability and self-sufficiency, fifteen concerning wealth and savings, and thirty-four on the American dream.

The site and its reports do not offer policy recommendations, however. "I would like citizens to be able to use this to form intelligent opinions," Ballmer told the New York Times. "People can disagree about what to do — I'm not going to tell people what to do." But, he said, people ought to base their opinions "on common data sets that are believable."

The idea for the site was inspired by a conversation between Ballmer, who believed the government took care of those in need, and his wife, Connie, who wanted him to get more involved in philanthropic work. Ballmer has spent more than $10 million to develop USAFacts, hiring a team of researchers in Seattle and making a grant to the University of Pennsylvania to help assemble the information, the Times reports.

"We're making philanthropic donations elsewhere — I think of this as another," Ballmer told the Times. "I don't even deduct this for my taxes. I pay [for] this with after-tax money, no pretax money, because I don't want anybody being able to think that factors in. But I feel like it's a civic contribution more than anything else."

"USAFacts Annual Report 2017." USAFacts Report 04/18/2017. Andrew Ross Sorkin. "Steve Ballmer Serves Up a Fascinating Data Trove." New York Times 04/17/2017.