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Steve Ballmer Builds Expansive Online Government Database

Now that everyone has filed their tax returns, many may wonder where that money goes. A new effort spearheaded by former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer can now help. Ballmer has recently started talking about the new Web site, USAFacts.org, which is a massive database of information about federal, state and local government information presented just like the 10-K forms publicly traded companies must release.

Ballmer, who is funding the site as a nonprofit, nonpartisan project, has assembled a team of people, many of whom helped create Microsoft's financial reports, and started talking up the effort in February during a TEDxPennsylvaniaAvenue talk. Upon looking for information about how money is spent, there was no single source of information to people easily find information on everything ranging from how Medicaid is used to how many people work for the government.

To get a sense of how much information is available, check out this 2017 report, that provides performance information for a wide spectrum of expenditures, from the Medicare Trust Financials to spending on national defense and veterans' affairs to child safety. And that was just at the federal level. Ballmer noted there are more than 90,000 organizations overall in federal, state and local governments as well as school, fire and water districts.

Recalling as CEO of Microsoft the need to know how every business unit and product was performing and why, Ballmer set out to create the same benchmark for how the government is performing. "I'm a numbers guy," Ballmer said during his February presentation. "For me, numbers are a tool to tell a story and to bring things together in ways that are more precise [and] that has more context. There has to be more clarity than you'll find in any other way. Numbers add to the discussion. They take a collage of mess and turn it into something that helps you in the playing field of a complex platform."

According to the site, USAFacts provides a data-driven portrait of the American population, government, its finances and the impact it has on society. It bills itself as a comprehensive, integrated database that brings together information from federal, state and local government sources, while providing logically organized and contextual information. It draws only on the most recently reported government data.

"What we want people to be able to do is to go to work and say what do my tax dollars go for, what is the money going to get used for and what kind of outcome," he said. Ballmer emphasized that the information doesn't give forecasts and is not biased. "We don't do any forecasting, no prediction that's not factual. We are just reporting on the history," he said. "We'll let people do their own forecasting and prediction. We also don't try to take a position on any issue."

Not surprisingly, the site runs in Microsoft Azure, Ballmer said in an interview published by Geekwire yesterday. The application is .NET-based using REST APIs to access the system. The front-end interfaces are JavaScript based. Plans call for enabling users to create their own visualizations with PowerBI.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 04/19/2017 at 1:48 PM


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