April 17, 2017; New York Times
Steve Ballmer was frustrated. He was trying to understand how government spends taxpayer money—including his sizable tax payments—and what happens as a result of that spending. He discovered that while there is much information to be found, relatively little of it is analyzed or reported in meaningful ways. After three years of quiet effort, Ballmer and a team of researchers have produced new ways to analyze government information to benefit business and individuals. That effort has now been formalized and made available to the public.
On January 1, 2017, the USAFacts Institute was registered as a nonprofit corporation in the state of Washington. A search of GuideStar and the IRS website indicates that the organization has not yet received federal tax-exempt recognition, assuming it has applied for it. The institute’s partners include the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, the Stanford Institute for Policy Research, and Lynchburg College.
Ballmer’s personal commitment to USAFacts’ “non-partisan, [nonprofit] civic initiative” to deliver a “data-driven portrait of the American population, our government’s finances, and government’s impact on society” is expressed simply. He says, “Let’s say it costs three, four, five million a year,” he said. “I’m happy to fund the damn thing.” Ballmer doesn’t count his money spent on the institute as part of his family’s philanthropic giving. “I don’t even deduct this for my taxes. I pay this with after-tax money, no pretax money, because I don’t want anybody being able to think that factors in. But I feel like it’s a civic contribution more than anything else.” To date, start-up costs have totaled $10 million, paid for by direct funding and grants.
USAFacts has opened its website full of data compiled from more than 70 government sources. The institute decided to avoid use of nongovernmental data sources in an attempt to limit claims of ideological bias. It discusses government