Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer Outs USAFacts To Make Government Spending And Other Data More Transparent
Steve Ballmer is entering a new venture, and it's not anything related to basketball or running a giant technology company. It's called USAFacts, and it's a one-stop avenue people can visit to see how the government is running the country.
Arguably, Ballmer has always been a numbers guy, which probably helped a lot during his stint at Microsoft. The current LA Clippers owner is notorious for leveraging data to run one of the world's most significant companies — establishing deep knowhow of revenue, expenditure and more.
That knowhow has now pivoted to government operations, with Ballmer using his expertise on business principles and applying them to create a number of detailed reports about local, state and federal government activity.
Ballmer Dabbles In Government Spending Records
The website — named USAFacts.org — became buggy on Tuesday, April 19, but not because of a flawed user interface — not quite. It was slowed down by heavy traffic, and it's easy to see why: the site offers dynamic graphical data showing revenue, spending, demographics and program missions in relation to government operations.
For instance, the site shows an infographic parsing down government revenue and spending in 2014. While revenue is parsed down into origin, spending is parsed down into "missions" of the government. This means that spending records are divided into missions set out by the preamble in the U.S. Constitution.
USAFacts: What Is It And How Does It Work?
Simply put, USAFacts is an enriched visual translation of where U.S. tax dollars originate, and where they go to. If that's not enough, users can even select a subcategory and discover a more granular view of government spending.
With USAFacts, Ballmer seeks to figure out what governments really do with the money.
He, along with a small number of economists, professors, and other professionals, created the database of USAFacts — with the venture sort of a stealth startup developed over the past three years, the New York Times reports. It is a nonpartisan and nonprofit attempt to create a full-fledged bird's eye view of government spending.
Describing it, Ballmer's "numbers guy" persona becomes apparent, calling USAFacts "the equivalent of a 10-K for government," an annual filing companies create. Ballmer honed the point further: if he wanted to understand what a company is doing, he'd look at their 10-K.
"It's wonky, it's this, it's that, but it's the greatest depth you're going to get, and it's accurate."
It's worth noting that Ballmer's new venture has been explored before, but with varying mileage. The government launched Data.gov in 2009 as a way to improve public access to federal government information, for instance, and Obama passed the DATA Act in 2014 to make government records more transparent. Not to be excluded is OpenGov, a cloud-based software for open data.
The Importance Of Good Design
Ballmer's project, however, rises from the cruft thanks to its attractive, intuitive and user-friendly design. Keep in mind that government spending, revenue, and related data will always come down to numbers, numbers, and more numbers. These are often the hardest to translate in terms of design and presentation. But USAFacts has succeeded in turning abstract, intimidating data into something easily understood and approached.
Aside from an attractive design, the site claims that its data is "factual and unbiased," and it doesn't "make judgments or prescribe specific policies." This lines up with Ballmer's ideals, who said that he wanted USAFacts to be "completely apolitical."
"We hope to spur serious, reasoned, and informed debate on the purpose and functions of government," the site says.