Here's how Steve Ballmer is building a huge US government data repository

USAFacts, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's latest venture, is an initiative that only a true Excel and SQLServer fan would undertake.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer officially has launched a beta his latest venture: A US government data repository known as USAFacts.


The accompanying USAFacts site, which went live on April 18 (federal tax day in the US) describes the project's mission this way:

"USAFacts 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."

Somewhat unsurprisingly, given his Microsoft roots (and major Microsoft shareholder status), Ballmer and team opted to build on top of Microsoft's Azure cloud and SQL Server database, as Ballmer told GeekWire. The site includes data from more than 70 federal, state and local government sources. The methodologies the team used in collecting and presenting the data are outlined on the site.

Ballmer said USAFacts is using a REST application programming interface built in .NET for the back-end of the repository. The front end was built using React and the Victory programming environment. The USAFacts team ultimately hopes to add Microsoft Power BI data-visualization tool support later, so that those wanting to dabble with all the data will be able to mix and match their own data sets and create their own visualizations, GeekWire reported.

See also: Microsoft Azure launches 3 new tools to speed migration to hybrid cloud and optimize deployment (TechRepublic)

Currently, there's a USAFacts website, an annual report, a summary report and a government "10-K" modeled on the 10K documents that public companies annual submit to the Securities and Exchange Commission. The idea behind the project is to explain where government monies come from, where they're spent and what the results of that spending are.

Bloomberg originally outlined Ballmer's plan for USAFacts in November, quipping that "Steve Ballmer's Plan to Make America Great Involves Excel Spreadsheets."

Ballmer and 25 "data geeks" pored over more than three decades of government documents to create the U.S. government spending database. This involved analyzing hundreds of Excel files and PowerPoint slides -- a fitting task for the former head of Microsoft who is known to be quite the numbers guy and math whiz (he scored an 800 on the Math SAT).

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