from the just-the-facts-maam dept.
Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has a lot of money and nothing to prove. Post-Microsoft, his biggest achievement so far has been paying $2 billion to buy the LA Clippers, but on Monday The New York Times dropped an extensive report about his next venture: a project called "USAFacts," which aggregates publicly available government data to tell you how your city, state, and federal tax dollars are spent.
Ballmer has already spent $10 million on the project and is "happy to fund the damn thing" (his personal net worth is estimated at over $22 billion, so he's good for it). He describes it as "a [Form] 10-K for government," a big searchable database that shows where tax revenue goes in and where it comes out. If you want to find out how many police officers or public school teachers the government employs in your area, you can do that; if you want to know what percentage of their salaries come from taxes paid by businesses instead of individuals, you can do that, too.
[...] USAFacts is definitely one of his good ideas. The site itself is slick and responsive and instantly informative, though it's still a beta and has rough edges. It shows real promise, and it has the potential to better inform discussion of where tax money comes from, vital to alleviating the feeling among some citizens that they pay taxes and receive nothing of worth in return. And if journalists and citizens can more easily get ahold of and interpret this data, it could itself lead to greater accountability and smarter spending, things that every politician on the face of the earth pays lip service to on the campaign trail.
But good, easily accessible data is only part of the solution to our problems. What's really in short supply now is not data, but trust—in experts, in government, in the press, and in our fellow citizens—and as good an idea as USAFacts seems to be, that's not a problem it can solve.
An imperfect solution is better than no attempt at all?