Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer isn’t satisfied with owning the Los Angeles Clippers and teaching at Stanford and USC.
He’s also trying to improve political discourse by making government financial data easier to access. 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.
Companies typically organize revenue into segments, and Ballmer’s USAFacts team has done the same. The U.S. government “10-K” pulls its segments from the missions mandated by the preamble to the Constitution:
- Provide for the common defense
- Promote the general welfare
- Secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.
Here’s how the spending on those missions has increased over the last few decades:
The most expensive mission of the United States, according to Ballmer’s breakdown, is securing the blessings of liberty. That includes the nearly $800 billion in government spending on education at the state and local level, programs like Social Security and Medicare, programs advancing civil rights and economic mobility, as well as environmental protection and agriculture.
Promoting the general welfare encompasses programs maintaining standards of living like public housing and transfer programs, public health initiatives, economic programs and government-run businesses like post offices and hospitals. The armed forces, foreign affairs and border security fall under the “common defense” mission, while the justice system, consumer safeguards, child safety and emergency services are in the segment dedicated to establishing justice.
The nearly 300-slide USAFacts Powerpoint document shared with CNBC also lays out hundreds of other metrics, including population data and employment by segment.
Ballmer’s lengthy report contains definitions and data but no policy recommendations or other analysis to help readers interpret the data. Even corporate 10-Ks generally walk the reader through the management’s narrative about what happened within the company that year.
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. So USAFacts can provide data on immigration apprehensions, small business loans, union membership, poverty rates and countless other measurements of government activity, but it won’t tell you what those data mean — Ballmer expects citizens to figure that out for themselves.
“I just think it’s important if you are going to make your case, for you to make your case in the context of numbers,” Ballmer told Bloomberg when he announced the project last year. “Here are the numbers. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist. You don’t have to be an economist. You decide what you believe. And when things come up that you need to vote on, you need to opine on, you’ll have the view of a citizen that’s informed by facts.”
A dedicated USAFacts website went live Tuesday morning and will be continuously updated with additional data over time.
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