Finding Just the Facts in Government Data

(Image: Geralt/Pixabay)

(Image: Geralt/Pixabay)

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's latest venture offers an interesting twist on the aged argument that government should be run like a business. I'm sure you've heard that point of view multiple times in every election season of your adult life.

Most invocations of the "government as a business" pledge focus on how a candidate for office plans to slash government spending and make government many times more efficient. Of course, the candidate who makes that pledge soon becomes the politician who discovers that cutting costs often means cutting services that certain voters want, as well as the fact that government isn't a for-profit business. Said politician then complicates matters by sponsoring or enacting new programs -- promoted by campaign contributors -- that actually add costs.

Everyone wants to see government spending -- and taxes reduced -- but they don't want the spending cuts to impact them. With that in mind, Ballmer takes a new tack, focusing on using business concepts to gain a better understanding of government finances.

He announced USAFacts Institute, a partnership with the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, Lynchburg College, and the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research. Ballmer reportedly invested $10 million in the project.

USAFacts hopes to enhance our understanding of what the US government spends, where the money comes from, and where the money goes. The work is based on two well-known but very different types of documents. First, it draws on the language of the preamble of the US Constitution. Second, it is modeled on the US Securities and Exchange Commission's 10K form, which you probably recognize as the detailed annual report form for public companies.

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James M. Connolly, Editor of All Analytics

Jim Connolly is a versatile and experienced technology journalist who has reported on IT trends for more than two decades. As editor of All Analytics he writes about the move to big data analytics and data-driven decision making. Over the years he has covered enterprise computing, the PC revolution, client/server, the evolution of the Internet, the rise of web-based business, and IT management. He has covered breaking industry news and has led teams focused on product reviews and technology trends. Throughout his tech journalism career, he has concentrated on serving the information needs of IT decision-makers in large organizations and has worked with those managers to help them learn from their peers and share their experiences in implementing leading-edge technologies through publications including Computerworld. Jim also has helped to launch a technology-focused startup, as one of the founding editors at TechTarget, and has served as editor of an established news organization focused on technology startups and the Boston-area venture capital sector at MassHighTech. A former crime reporter for the Boston Herald, he majored in journalism at Northeastern University.

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Re: Good attempt
  • 4/21/2017 1:51:03 PM

I would imagine we would see more progress if money trails couldn't be hid.  So much money goes into a general fund and becomes used for other expenses and projects for which they were never intended. 

Good attempt
  • 4/20/2017 10:15:07 AM

I think the initiative is a good attempt at getting some real data, but I can't help but think it wil be politicized in some fashion. It is hard to trust analysis from government data for just this reason. Many people just have an axe to grind.