Steve Ballmer, once the very outspoken CEO of Microsoft and now the boisterous owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, spends his days doing more than just chasing an NBA championship. In fact, before he purchased the Clippers, he started a private project to "figure out what the government really does with the money" it collects from taxes. Now he wants you to know what he's discovered.
He's so passionate about auditing the government that he's spent millions of dollars in direct funding and grants—more than $10 million, actually. His investments and subsequent efforts will culminate in a data dump today in which he makes public a database and a report he assembled with the help from economists, professors, and other professionals who have particpated in the stealth start-up, The New York Times reports (opens in new tab).
Ballmer considers this "the equivalent of a 10-K for government," which is a reference to the annual filing that companies are obligated to make. He notes that with companies like Amazon and Apple, 10-K filings are readily available, and so he wants something similar for the government. However, he warns that it won't be perfect audit.
"It's wonky, it's this, it's that, but it's the greatest depth you're going to get, and it's accurate," Ballmer told The New York Times author Andrew Ross Sorkin in an interview.
Beyond his own curiosity into government spending, he wants the public to be in the loop as well, especially at a time when so-called fake news runs rampant.
"I would like citizens to be able to use this to form intelligent opinions," Ballmer said. "People can disagree about what to do—I’m not going to tell people what to do." However, Ballmer said people should base their opinions "on common data sets that are believable."
The data he aims to provide is quite extensive and covers many different areas. Some of them include parking ticket revenue versus cost, looking at the number of police in an area versus the crime rate, how much tax deductions benefit the wealth versus the middle class, what percentage of Americans suffer from diagnosed depression and how much the government spends on it, and so forth.
As part of his audit and ongoing data collection, Ballmer launched USAFacts.org (opens in new tab). It's filled with reports and articles, and even has a search engine to look up all kinds of interesting tidbits.
This is just the beginning of his effort. Looking longer term, Ballmer hopes that others will build on top of it and offer more customized reports. As of right now it doesn't contain any data on video games, which is something we'd like to see since politicians like to rage against violent games on occasion.