All we know are the facts, ma’am
April 18, 2017 10:30 AM   Subscribe is a new data-driven portrait of the American population, our government’s finances, and government’s impact on society. We are a non-partisan, not-for-profit civic initiative and have no political agenda or commercial motive. We provide this information as a free public service and are committed to maintaining and expanding it in the future.

"In an age of fake news and questions about how politicians and others manipulate data to fit their biases, [Former Microsoft CEO] Mr. Ballmer’s project may serve as a powerful antidote. Using his website,, a person could look up just about anything: How much revenue do airports take in and spend? What percentage of overall tax revenue is paid by corporations? At the very least, it could settle a lot of bets made during public policy debates at the dinner table.

'I would like citizens to be able to use this to form intelligent opinions,' Mr. Ballmer said. 'People can disagree about what to do — I’m not going to tell people what to do.' But, he said, people ought to base their opinions 'on common data sets that are believable.'" - NYT
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug (17 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
It took me a minute to figure out that these items on the home page are links, but the data is broken out into 4 "missions" from the Constitution: You can also search.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 10:33 AM on April 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Now, how to make a graph that says "That logo is too clever by one half"...
posted by rokusan at 10:44 AM on April 18, 2017

The search functionality doesn't give me any results unless I tell Chrome to allow it to load scripts from untrusted sources. Which I have to say I don't love doing. But for anyone who sees it just saying "loading..." forever, that might be why.
posted by aubilenon at 10:47 AM on April 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

I typed in "republicans in cambridge, ma" and seem to have melted it down.
posted by scolbath at 11:41 AM on April 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

Thank you for signing up for USAfacts. You will now receive fun daily facts about the USA! (to cancel daily USAfacts, reply CANCEL)
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:43 AM on April 18, 2017 [11 favorites]

posted by scolbath at 11:46 AM on April 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

posted by blue_beetle at 12:06 PM on April 18, 2017 [13 favorites]

Yep, also have the "loading" message, but for every link. First thing that jumps to mind (and apologies, since I can't actually view the site!) is whether they're interested in providing any context for these facts, like when someone gets the cold hard fact that arrests for crimes are majority black men without actually understanding our country's mega-effed-up-racist context. Seems to me that's the trouble we're in these days. Well, that, and not caring about facts anymore.
posted by knownassociate at 12:58 PM on April 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

just in case it wasn't clear what rokusan was getting at...
it's a pretty deep cut, in logo terms. Last used in 2001.
posted by tss at 2:00 PM on April 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

So, at least the summary loaded for me, and I was able to download the PDF; but my initial impression - a VERY quick impression - is that I am just very pleased with the home page and the laying out of those four missions Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug mentioned above:

Establish Justice and Ensure Domestic Tranquility
Provide for the Common Defense
Promote the General Welfare
Secure the Blessings of Liberty to Ourselves and our Posterity

So many people seem to think the purpose of the government is ONLY defense and forget all about justice, domestic tranquility, the general welfare, and securing the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.

I just am very happy with that reminder, right on the main page, that these are ALL goals for our nation, enshrined in the Constitution.

I heard about it via Daring Fireball, which has this quote:
With an unlimited budget, he went about hiring a team of researchers in Seattle and made a grant to the University of Pennsylvania to help his staff put the information together. Altogether, he has spent more than $10 million between direct funding and grants.

“Let’s say it costs three, four, five million a year,” he said. “I’m happy to fund the damn thing.”
I'm glad grants to a university were part of his plan. Tech folks are notorious for tech expert syndrome, where they think they know everything, and I'm glad he thought getting some academics involved was a good idea.
posted by kristi at 2:07 PM on April 18, 2017 [10 favorites]

... and actually, yeah, if you're having trouble getting the interactive stuff to load, the Reports link at the top links to 3 PDF reports, so you can at least take a look at the summaries while you're waiting for the servers to catch up.

And one of those reports is the "10-K", which starts out by saying the report is "modeled on the Form 10-K, which public companies are required to file annually with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)", and I am really not pleased with the notion of using a business-oriented document for reporting on government - but it does then go right on to say,
Of course, our Government is not a corporation; its purpose is not to make a profit but to provide services to its citizens that improve the quality of life. But this Form 10-K format does have the advantage of providing a thorough account of government finances, structure, and activities.
So, again, there's plenty to preview in the PDF reports (which are downloading quickly for me) if the interactive stuff is not working for you.
posted by kristi at 2:12 PM on April 18, 2017

One last comment - here are the direct links to the main PDF reports, I think:

Summary 2017 - 58 page presentation PDF
Report 2017 - 291 pages
10-K 2017 (that's incorrect; it says 2014 inside the document) - 170 pages
posted by kristi at 2:15 PM on April 18, 2017

Let's take bets on how many of these data sources are mysteriously discontinued by the Feds over the next couple of years. Gathering and disseminating data ain't free, you know, gotta cut waste!
posted by aramaic at 2:45 PM on April 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

I follow some open government data folks on Twitter. Everyone seems enthusiastic enough about this spirit of this, but some polite critiques about the execution. Limits of the data (it's only federal sources, and only 70 at that.) Also a lack of source citation. Still it's great that this resource at least exists. It's a good start.

Vaguely related: openelections is trying to build a basic database (CSV files really) of election results. No such thing exists. Lots of precinct reports still only exist on hand-written sheets. Or Excel clip-art.
posted by Nelson at 4:32 PM on April 18, 2017 [5 favorites]

Ballmer, I finally found something to like about you. If you can get a little Lessig in your worldview, maybe you can start to mirror Some of rhose .gov data sources, hmmmm?
posted by wenestvedt at 6:39 PM on April 18, 2017 [4 favorites]

Rich guy: "I have this idea that's just crazy enough to work!"
Everyone else: "WE KNOW."

Direct quote from the NYT article:
“But come on, doesn’t the government take care of the poor, the sick, the old?” Mr. Ballmer recalled telling her. After all, he pointed out, he happily paid a lot of taxes, and he figured that all that tax money should create a sufficient social safety net.

Her answer: “A, it won’t, because there are things government doesn’t get to, and B, you’re missing it.”

Mr. Ballmer replied, “No, I’m not.”
And so Steve Ballmer brings that special insight to the problem that had so much of the computing world mad at him for years, while also directly negating the opinion of his wife. I guess the best I can say about him is that he doesn't seem to be a Randroid or poisoned by Republican rhetoric, which means that his site may just happen to come across the root causes that most of us already see (defense spending is gigantic while we keep starting wars, income inequality is huge while taxes on the rich are low and corporations evade tax through loopholes), meaning maybe it won't cause any harm.
posted by JHarris at 12:49 AM on April 19, 2017

I am really not pleased with the notion of using a business-oriented document for reporting on government

This is like economics in that politicians misrepresent everything about the concept. The textbook for one of my econ. courses was written by a Federal Reserve Chairman and a lot of it is based on the "national balance sheet". When I hear a politician talk about running the government like a business I get the distinct impression that the person talking doesn't actually have an idea of how to run a business.

Like, if your sales have slowed and you're not making enough money to cover your expenses, yes you need to be conscious with your spending but it's to make sure that you're maximizing the value of the things you're spending on. Then, you need to stimulate sales, usually by using some of the credit you can access for situations just such as these and spend some money to drive sales (advertising, new products, etc.).

There is nothing wrong with running the government like a business, analysing it's balance sheet and everything that comes with it provided that you actually understand how business run.

As a bonus, as long as the basic accounting assumption that the firm is a "going concern" the fun part of the US's national balance sheet is that the "shareholder equity" account balance is infinite. The balance sheet will always balance because our equity stake in the future of the US and her people is as large as it needs to be to make the thing balance. Since that's true, the national debt is MUCH less of a problem.
posted by VTX at 7:25 AM on April 19, 2017

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