A Lynchburg College professor and two students played a behind-the-scenes role in a new website that puts more government financial data in the hands of the people.
Steve Ballmer, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers and former Microsoft CEO, launched USAFacts.org on Tuesday. The website turns mountains of government data on spending, taxes, and demographics into a more easily scaled summit. “USAFacts is a new data-driven portrait of the American population, our government’s finances, and government’s impact on society,” the website says.
Dr. Gerald Prante, an economics professor, got involved in 2015 when a paper he wrote for the Tax Foundation caught the attention of one of Ballmer’s research assistants. Ballmer asked Dr. Prante to help gather government data, from federal and state sources, and converting it to formats that could be integrated more easily. Two economics students — Max Kelly ’16 and Ancito Etienne ’17 — helped in that process. Other partner institutions include the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR) and the Penn Wharton Budget Model.
Thanks to their work, the website can help readers learn facts about society — such as how access to technology varies according to income and how spending is divided among different missions of government.
The site combines data from all levels of government, breaking new ground by helping people grasp the full picture of government finances, Dr. Prante said.
He hopes the project will empower people to make more informed decisions about public policy. “Policy makers can use it directly, but also citizens, when they made decisions about public policy, need to have a factual basis about what the world is like,” he said.