What if the country were a business?

If the U.S. government actually were a business, it’d have to issue a 10-K filing with regulators — a report to shareholders — and we’d all get a look at how the business is doing.

This morning, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer unveiled the results of his project to do just that and it landed with a bit of a thud.

While Ballmer issued his 10-K — called USA Facts — he struck out and the one thing missing: a narrative to summarize how we’re doing.

Ballmer divided the country’s expenditures into four constitutional mission, CNBC reports:

* 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.

The most expensive mission of the United States, according to Ballmer’s breakdown, is securing the blessings of liberty. That includes the nearly $800 billion in government spending on education at the state and local level, programs like Social Security and Medicare, programs advancing civil rights and economic mobility, as well as environmental protection and agriculture.

Promoting the general welfare encompasses programs maintaining standards of living like public housing and transfer programs, public health initiatives, economic programs and government-run businesses like post offices and hospitals. The armed forces, foreign affairs and border security fall under the “common defense” mission, while the justice system, consumer safeguards, child safety and emergency services are in the segment dedicated to establishing justice.

The lack of any analysis is by design, Ballmer told CNBC. It’s intended to give people with different political agendas the same set of “facts.”

The goal is to answer: (1) Where does the money come from? (2) Where does the money go? and (3) What’s the outcome?

“One of the problems with today’s political discourse is people snatch one number out of the air and not put it in any historical context or the context of other numbers,” he said.

Ballmer said he was surprised that there weren’t “that many bureaucrats” and that the number one sector of employment in our shared company is education.

The government is the top employer, compared to U.S. companies. Walmart is second.

It has more revenue, debt and more assets than any corporation, of course. But it trails in “executive compensation” because the top salary is about $400,000.

It’s taken Ballmer three years to do the research. His USAFacts website went live this morning. Almost immediately, it crashed.

Will it change the political discourse in the country? No. It would still require Americans to read and research factual data. That’s not the customers’ forte.

  • Mike Worcester
    • Al

      Nailed it.

  • MikeB

    There are many readable charts and graphs of government revenues and spending that are readily available. So Ballmer takes existing information, garbles it, and cannot produce a clean product to use.

    How Microsoft of him to do this.

    • You were able to get into the site? What’s your secret?

      • MikeB

        In now but slooowwwlllyyy loading.

        Repackaging existing data into a poor user experience.

        • you can take the boy out of Microsoft, but…

  • MrE85

    Asking why the government can’t be run like a business is a bit like asking why can’t a fish be more like a bicycle. Government and business are very different things, and should be. It comes from the conservative dogma that everything private enterprise does is good, and that government is inherent bad. Neither statement is true.

    • But asking what the outcome is for money expended isn’t a bad thing and doesn’t by definition negate the value of the answer. The problem is people don’t agree on what the outcome should be, which is why there was no narrative.

      Having a vision for where you want to be later is a good idea regardless of whether you’re a government or a business. The problem is politicians have been allowed to think a vision is incompatible with government.

      • MrE85

        True. I have a cousin who once led an electronic counterintelligence team for the Department of Defense. His greatest joy at work was catching military contractors who tried to cheat the taxpayers by hiding their graft behind fancy shields and passwords. It never worked. I’m sure his department more than paid for itself.

        • Barton

          I believe we could solve a few budge issues by just requiring the DoD to be audited like the other departments (theoretically) are audited.

          • Robert Moffitt

            If it were, I’m sure people would be surprised how much of the expense is for fuel, health care, and other mundane things. Big ticket airplanes and submarines always make for good headlines.

      • Rob

        Ah, the old “vision thing…”

  • Will

    Website is down, looks like a government project already!

    I wish it wasn’t based around the preamble (which holds no legal power) and would instead be based in Article 1 Section 8, which clearly lays out congressional powers.

    • The project is not a government project.

      • Will

        I like the idea but it looks quite convoluted at the moment, perhaps it will improve over time. More numbers and understanding them is a good thing.

    • Kassie

      In my experience, the only time government projects fail is when contractors are brought in to do the work full time employees could of done.

      • Will

        So why would government ever contract anything out then? Apparently they have all the talent in house…

        • Jay T. Berken

          That’s funny. Congress passes bills that changes the duties of the civilian side of the government to figure out and implement. Then the Congress cuts the funding and implements job freezes. Finally, we the people blame the government bureaucracy for being inefficient and broken.

          As for contractors, yes, they are good for one time deals or a reoccurring function (e.g. cleaning toilets)

        • Because that talent has to be paid. And the trend has been for Congress and the Legislature to add to the tasks that agencies/departments have to perform without adding to the respective budgets to pay for the talent to accomplish those tasks.

      • wjc

        That is not my experience.

      • KTFoley

        In my experience, government projects are as prone as any to the myriad reasons for failure: shifting requirements, failure to achieve durable buy-in from stakeholders, leadership that manages to a timeline rather than a quality deliverable, design & development locked in before process validation is complete, incomplete testing. None of these are prevented by bringing the inadequacies in-house.

  • Barton

    Well, now I have Schoolhouse Rock’s Constitution song going in my head. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EfnNUt_nwY

    • lindblomeagles

      I wish they would bring School House Rock back. Great program for young kids.

  • One oft-repeated meme is that “provide for the common defense” is the only true function of government and that it has no business with welfare programs and regulation – one can tell when this is brought up on conservative talk shows because it is then immediately telegraphed on all sorts of message boards by the true believers. It is good to remind citizens that the government has broader obligations than that.

    • Will

      The legal powers that Congress has are clearly laid out in Article 1 Section 8, I recommend reading that part of the US Constitution then decide. I’m not saying you’re right or wrong but everyone should read that part of the Constitution before deciding on their own.

      • Jack Ungerleider

        But like much of the Constitution it includes some vague language to allow the document to be interpreted and applied to life after the rapidly waning 18th century.

    • kennedy

      “…provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States…”

      The definition of “general Welfare” seems to be where people disagree on the role of Congress.

      • Will

        Now copy and paste the entire power:

        “The Congress shall have the power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defence and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.”

        They call it the tax and spend clause, it doesn’t specify what the spending should specifically be used for. There are a dozen plus additional powers that get into the nitty gritty.

      • Indeed, that is the case. As Will suggests, Congress does not have highly specific guidance from the Constitution. Take any of these -defense, for example – and for some it will surely not encompass all kinds of discretionary wars in far-flung places followed by decades of nation-building.

  • Rob

    Yes! Let’s have government run like a business! But which one? United Airlines? A hedge fund? Trump U? Wells Fargo?

  • Jack Ungerleider

    Did anyone else find it surprising that Mr Ballmer with all his corporate experience found that the biggest area of employment by Government (federal, state and local) was education? If you crunch the numbers provided by the Census Bureau for the 2010 census there are more than 54 million Americans between age 5 and 18. If we take a class size of 35 that means there need to be slight more than 1.5 million teachers. Add in the support staff and it would seem to me to be a no brainer that largest sector of government employment is education. (Note: this doesn’t include state run post secondary facilities either.)

    • Also factor in public higher education.

      In any event, in rural areas in particular, education is THE economy.

  • lindblomeagles

    Businesses can be just as political (and corrupt) as governments, and they put more people out of work each year than the government does. The problems Americans have had lately with our government comes down to these: 1) We want businesses to create jobs that pay great wages and wonderful benefits, but we don’t want our federal government forcing those same businesses to pay those great wages and wonderful benefits we seek; 2) We allegedly don’t want slavery or segregation, but we keep characterizing implicitly and explicitly various groups in America as lazy, wasteful, illiterate, sneaky, or a combination of these things — those groups particularly in 2017 are inner city school teachers (see Betsy DeVos), Hispanic immigrants (see Trump voters), unionized employees (see Scott Walker, our neighboring Governor to the East), and government workers (see a great many American workers who don’t work for a government organization). 3) We think our “islands” either uphold American values or is consistently shafted by politicians and parties.

  • kevins

    Just curious…if a private contractor is paid to build a road or bridge by a government entity, is that private business, government work or some odd hybrid?