WASHINGTON, D.C. — Many of the people who filled an auditorium here Thursday for an appearance by former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer were clearly familiar with his greatest hits, with one person toward the back jokingly chanting, “developers, developers, developers” to his colleagues before the event started.
Ballmer, who left Microsoft four years ago and turned 62 last month, didn’t run in to a dance track or stalk the stage clapping his hands. And as the leader of the non-partisan organization USAFacts, he was careful to stay politically neutral. But speaking at the Politico event at the Newseum, a short distance from the U.S. Congress and the White House, he was no less passionate in delivering his message to the country’s elected officials.
“It drives me crazy when a politican says, “AHHHH, we can’t trust the data!” he said in response to a question from the moderator, Politico CEO Patrick Steel. “You can’t trust the data?! It is your job to FIX the data! You own that problem! You are not independent of that problem!”
As the audience applauded, he half-heartedly apologized for the outburst, explaining with a smile that it’s an issue he cares deeply about. Just as business leaders need to ensure their teams are providing good data, he explained, it should be the responsibility of government leaders to do the same.
Later, an audience member tried to get Ballmer to take the political bait, asking him to comment on what the person described as Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt’s “recent decision to ignore data in making policy.”
Ballmer didn’t address that question specifically, steering well clear of any explicit commentary on Pruitt or the EPA chief’s boss, President Donald Trump. However, he said in general that government leaders need to focus on facts and data in making their decisions.
“If you’re debating what happened in the past and those data came from this government, and you work in this government, shame on you for ignoring that data,” he said.
Ballmer’s appearance in Washington, D.C., capped a week of activities marking the Year 2 launch of USAFacts, his Bellevue, Wash.-based nonprofit that produces annual reports on the U.S. government in the style of the documents that companies provide to investors and regulators. It’s part of an effort by Ballmer to bring more of the principles of business to the operation of the U.S. government.
— toddbishop (@toddbishop) April 26, 2018
But the longtime business executive says he wants to focus on facts, not forecasts — relying exclusively on historical data for an understanding of where taxpayer dollars are going. Last week, on Tax Day, Ballmer held a shareholder meeting for U.S. taxpayers, presenting an array of data from the latest USAFacts annual reports.
Speaking with GeekWire backstage at the Politico event, Ballmer was careful to note that his group is non-partisan and not exclusively focused on federal data. USAFacts also tracks data from state and local jurisdictions. However, he said he hopes his presence in the nation’s capital will help to emphasize the importance of data and facts to U.S. government officials.
“There is a special role for the federal government,” Ballmer said, “and we figured this was a way to get at some of the wonks who have to be early adopters of our approach.”
Translation: “Data, data, data, data, data.”