This Tax Day, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer launched a new tool designed to make government spending and revenue more accessible to the average citizen.
The website — USAFacts.org — has been slow and buggy for users on Tuesday, apparently due to the level of traffic. It offers interactive graphics showing data on revenue, spending, demographics and program missions.
For example, the site prominently features an infographic created to break down revenue and spending in 2014. Revenue is broken down by origin; spending is broken down by what “mission” of government it serves, based on the functions laid out in the Constitution.
It’s a big-picture view of where U.S. tax dollars come from, and how they’re spent. But click on a subcategory and you’re taken to a more detailed, granular view of that spending.
Ballmer didn’t create the site because he was an expert on government data. Quite the opposite, according to The New York Times’ Dealbook.
The Times says that Ballmer’s wife was pushing her newly-retired husband to get more involved in philanthropy. Ballmer said — according to his own memory, as he described the conversation to the Times — “But come on, doesn’t the government take care of the poor, the sick, the old?”
Federal agencies are striving to become more innovative and iterative, leading to growing adoption of open source within the government. The issuance earlier this year of the Federal Source Code Policy illustrates how this technology, once anathema to government agencies, has become the de facto standard for the creation and deployment of many applications.
With the explosive adoption of open-source components being used to assemble applications, agency personnel are now tasked with ensuring the quality of the components that are being used. Developers must have confidence in components’ security, licensing and quality attributes and know for certain that they are using the latest versions.
Unfortunately, many agencies that are adopting the RMF are also relying on outdated and inefficient practices and tools that are not designed for today’s open and agile world. In addition to relying on potentially vulnerable components to build applications, some agencies have continued to depend too heavily on common application security tools, such as static application security testing and dynamic application security testing.
Trolling government records for juicy details about companies and their executives can be a ponderous task. I often find myself querying the websites of multiple federal agencies, each using its own particular terminology and data forms, just for a glimpse of one company’s business.
But a few new services aim to reduce that friction not just for reporters, but also for investors and companies that might use the information in making business decisions. One site, rankandfiled.com, is designed to make company filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission more intelligible. It also offers visitors an instant snapshot of industry relationships, in a multicolored “influence” graph that charts the various companies in which a business’s officers and directors own shares. According to the site, pooh-bahs at Google, for example, have held shares in Apple, Netflix, LinkedIn, Zynga, Cisco, Amazon and Pixar.
Another site, Enigma.io, has obtained, standardized and collated thousands of data sets — including information on companies’ lobbying activities and their contributions to state election campaigns — made public by federal and state agencies. Starting this weekend, the public will be able to use it, at no charge, to seek information about a single company across dozens of government sources at once.
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