Just The Facts, Ma’am: Another Fact-Checking Resource

USA FACTS - civic ignorance

Shades of Joe Friday!

There really are incredible resources on the Internet. Granted, it can be hard to locate them  in that ever-burgeoning sea of spin, propaganda and conspiracy theories, but they exist. Last week, I blogged about “ProCon,” a site that presents the arguments made by contending sides on so-called “hot button” issues.

Today, I want to highlight USA FACTS, a site devoted to presenting a 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.

We rely exclusively on publicly available government data sources. We don’t make judgments or prescribe specific policies. Whether government money is spent wisely or not, whether our quality of life is improving or getting worse – that’s for you to decide. We hope to spur serious, reasoned, and informed debate on the purpose and functions of government. Such debate is vital to our democracy. We hope that USAFacts will make a modest contribution toward building consensus and finding solutions.

The site offers a brief description of its genesis:

USAFacts was inspired by a conversation Steve Ballmer had with his wife, Connie. She wanted him to get more involved in philanthropic work. He thought it made sense to first find out what government does with the money it raises. Where does the money come from and where is it spent? Whom does it serve? And most importantly, what are the outcomes?

With his business background, Steve searched for solid, reliable, impartial numbers to tell the story… but eventually realized he wasn’t going to find them. He put together a small team of people – economists, writers, researchers – and got to work.

Ultimately, Ballmer partnered in this effort with Stanford’s Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR), the Penn Wharton Budget Model, and Lynchburg College.

The site does something I have long advocated–it collects numerical data about America’s state and federal governments that has previously been available only through a patchwork of reports and agency sites, and assembles it in a usable, comprehensible (and comprehensive) format. Want to know how much government took in in taxes last year and the year before? Where those dollars came from? What was spent? What a “trust fund” is and what its assets are? How many people work for government? What governments owe?

It’s all there, along with population demographics.

The charts are simple, the text understandable.

The next time one of the talking heads on cable makes an assertion about job creation under President X, or deficits amassed under President Y, his numbers can be checked in real time. (Like the t-shirt says, “Trust Data, Not Lore.”) (Star Trek fans will get that…)

These days, it sometimes seems as if partisans are uninterested in those pesky things we call facts; indeed, they seem to resent those of us who prefer to deal with accurate data. This site isn’t for them–but it is definitely a great resource for the rest of us!

[Originally published at SheilaKennedy.net on July 23, 2017]

Sheila Kennedy is a former high school English teacher, former lawyer, former Republican, former Executive Director of Indiana’s ACLU, former columnist for the Indianapolis Star, and former young person. She is currently an (increasingly cranky) old person, a Professor of Law and Public Policy at Indiana University Purdue University in Indianapolis, and Director of IUPUI’s Center for Civic Literacy. She writes for the Indianapolis Business Journal, PA Times, and the Indiana Word, and blogs at www.sheilakennedy.net. For those who are interested in more detail, links to an abbreviated CV and academic publications can be found on her blog, along with links to her books..

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