Steve Ballmer, the former chief executive officer of Microsoft and owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team, has launched a website aimed at helping members of the public understand how their taxes are spent by local and state governments as well as the federal government. Ballmer hopes the project will assist citizens of the United States to understand where the government gets its money and how it eventually spends it.
“I’d like it to be a tool that gives people common data without a lot of adjectives. Numbers don’t dramatize good or bad, they just are what they are,” Ballmer said in an interview with the Washington Post.
Revenues and expenditures
The website, USAFacts.Org, tallies expenditures and revenues from all government levels and shows in a format that is easy to digest. Besides providing a common set of facts that are easily accessible, the project applies the same analytic rigor that the government requires in publicly-listed firms.
Ballmer has invested $10 million in the project. Though there are currently 3 full-time employees, there are also professionals working in other capacities to help in the initiative. This includes economists, professors, programmers and designers.
The project is not politically-affiliated and the aim of the portal is to inform and trigger discussions around various national issues. Most of the information on the website has been obtained from government sources and visitors to the website are able to search through this trove of information.
According to Ballmer it was important for the source of information to be the government since compared to universities, non-profits and other organizations, government statisticians were considered the most objective since they were not trying to sell a viewpoint. They are also not political appointees.
Lack of specific information
The billionaire who left Microsoft in 2014 said he started thinking about the project following discussions with his wife who urged him to assist her in her philanthropic initiatives. But according to Ballmer he felt he had already contributed enough to society since he had paid a lot in taxes over a span of many years. It was then that began to ask himself how his tax dollars had been spent. However, the specific information on government spending was not available and this inspired him to start a database that would show how taxes were spent at all levels of government.
The annual costs of the keeping the website running are estimated to be approximately $5 million and Ballmer intends it to exist long after he has left the scene.