It’s been three weeks since President Trump submitted his first budget to Congress. The debate over whose programs will benefit the most or be cut the deepest has been, to say the least, intense. In this era of fake news, though, how do we really know if the information we’re seeing in the media that compares the proposed budget to past budgets is reliable?
Quite frankly, it’s hard to answer that, but one option is to use a brand-new non-partisan Web site on government spending created by the former cief executive office of Microsoft, Steve Ballmer.
That’s right, the same man who helped give millions of Americans the spreadsheet they’ve used to do their monthly budget has just created a Web site called USAFacts.org to help us make sense of the federal budget. And it’s worth checking out because of something all of us non-billionaires share with this former business titan.
Despite being one of the richest men in the U.S., Ballmer said that he had the same problem so many of us have had when looking for unbiased, user-friendly information about government spending: he couldn’t find a good source. But unlike most of us, the retired executive had the time and the money to do something about it, and that’s just what he did by developing USAFacts.org.
Want to know how defense spending has changed over the decades? It’s there. Want to know how spending on entitlements like Social Security and Medicare has risen or fallen during Republican and Democratic administrations? It’s there, too. How about the number of people who have taken advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit since 1980? You’ll also find it there.
But this Web site offers a lot more than information on government spending. While you can see how spending on education has changed over the years, you can also see how the percentage of our population that has a high school diploma or a college degree has changed, too. It provides immigration and border security information like the number of people who have been returned to their countries, and it will even tell you how much land has been used to grow crops each year over the past 36 years.
Ballmer reportedly got the idea for creating a one-stop-shopping website on government spending after helping his wife with her philanthropic efforts. After questioning why all our tax money doesn’t provide an adequate social safety net, he started thinking about what the government does with all our money. There wasn’t a single reliable source he could use to find out.
So, over the course of about three years, he has spent more than $10 million between direct funding and grants to put together what in the private sector would be called a 10-K for our government. A 10-K is an annual report required by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) aimed at giving accountability to investors by providing a comprehensive summary of a company’s financial performance.
Ballmer said he wanted the project to be non-political, and one rule he said his team made early on was to use only government data — no outside providers. He says he wants to continuing building on it and hopes individuals and companies can use it to make customized reports to suit their needs.
According to InsidePhilanthropy.com:
“USAFacts.org employs researchers from the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR), the Penn Wharton Budget Model, and Lynchburg College. Those researchers draw on federal data sources to piece together a picture of government revenues, spending and activities, as well as national demographic trends. USAFacts.org breaks down spending by level — federal, state and local — to show, for example, that almost one half of government employees are educators managed on a local basis."
Will this new project give you all the answers you want about government spending? It’s hard to say until you use it. However, the goal established for USAFacts.org came straight from the preamble of the Constitution. The Web site lays out four missions, "Establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility; provide for the common defense; promote the general welfare; and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity."
USAFacts.org provides a valuable resource that can elevate the quality of public discourse in the months and years ahead. In an age where the term "fake news" has become a daily reminder of how important the facts are to every policy debate, this is a welcome addition.
Bob Dorigo Jones is senior fellow at the Center for America, creator of the annual Wacky Warning Labels™ Contest, and the bestselling author of "Remove Child Before Folding: The 101 Stupidest, Silliest and Wackiest Warning Labels Ever." His weekly radio commentary, "Let’s Be Fair!" airs on radio stations across the U.S. To read more of his reports, Click Here Now.
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