How Does The Government Spend Tax Revenue? Steve Ballmer's USAFacts Has All The Details

by Joseph D. Lyons
Zhong Zhi/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

Maybe you have an uncle who is constantly complaining that he spends half his money on taxes. Perhaps you get your pay stub at the end of the month and note that your direct deposit was for much less than what you thought you were being paid. Or maybe you and everyone you know love taxes and love paying them. Regardless, you can all agree that it might be nice to know where your money goes. Wouldn't it? Well Steve Ballmer created USAFacts to track government spending, and where exactly your tax dollars go.

As noted in a New York Times profile of Ballmer, before he worked to create USAFacts, it wasn't easy to find the answers to even basic questions about federal spending on the site. For instance, how much money does the government spend, and on what? The project stemmed from a discussion he had with his wife, Connie, about what to do after retiring from Microsoft. She suggested he get involved with philanthropy projects, but he was sure that the government had a handle on helping the poor. She persisted that there was more to be done, and Ballmer decided to make it possible to find the answer to that. What has the government been doing to help those in need? And what could it perhaps be doing more of?

Ballmer contracted researchers in Seattle and made a grant to the University of Pennsylvania to make it happen. The total price tag is around $10 million, and he's willing to spend even more to keep it around. "Let’s say it costs three, four, five million a year,” Ballmer told the New York Times. “I’m happy to fund the damn thing."

As the homepage of the website lists, there are four main areas of government spending that the Constitution lays out:

  1. "establish justice and ensure domestic tranquility"
  2. "provide for the common defense"
  3. "promote the general welfare"
  4. "secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity"

Then it breaks down the spending among those areas, like a company would on a 10-K filing that corporations must do each year. As of Tuesday morning, these are all laid out on the website and are available to be downloaded.

There's no analysis that accompanies the data. Rather, it's a "common set of facts on which even people with opposing points of view can agree," according to the site's mission.

Ballmer explained to Bloomberg why he thinks making is a good solution for promoting healthy political discourse, rather than polarization. "I just think it's important if you are going to make your case, for you to make your case in the context of numbers," he said. "Here are the numbers. You don't have to be a rocket scientist. You don't have to be an economist. You decide what you believe. And when things come up that you need to vote on, you need to opine on, you'll have the view of a citizen that's informed by facts."