I read an article in Fortune online yesterday that brought a tear to the eye. Writer Adam Lashinsky wrote about what former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was doing with some of his many Microsoft millions of dollars.
Ballmer said that he’d been funding a project to create a “10-K for government,” a way to show citizens in plain numbers how the US Government spends their money. Companies file 10-K annual reports, reasoned Ballmer. Shouldn’t someone produce one on behalf of the government? A Form 10-K is an annual report required by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that gives a clear summary of a company's financial performance.
Have a look at USAFacts here. It’s beautifully done, setting out the four missions given to the US government through their constitution, and how those targets are being met. The aim is to be factual and non-partisan. Facts are facts. And what made me almost cry? Frustration that our own government can’t copy such a simple idea.
To be fair, our Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has created a website to show where the money goes, but it doesn’t show outcomes. Not very useful in a country where a €460 million children’s hospital can end up with a cost estimate of over a billion Euro, while various lobby groups still fight over its location. Meanwhile there’s no new children’s hospital!
Similarly, there are no questions about the benefits for citizens of the government continuing to borrow to keep the show on the road while our national debt clocks continues to click relentlessly towards €213 billion . Who’s getting the benefit of the borrowed billions? We don’t know, because nobody is auditing it.
The US has four guiding constitutional principles. Unfortunately Ireland has no stated or agreed national values, barring the oft quoted but usually breached aspiration to cherish the children of the nation equally. The preamble to Bunreacht na hEireann does say the nation should seek to… promote the common good, with due observance of Prudence, Justice and Charity, so that the dignity and freedom of the individual may be assured, true social order attained, the unity of our country restored, and concord established with other nations…
Unfortunately, our governments are not obliged to show how, if at all, they are meeting these constitutional aspirations, or whether the toil of the taxed citizen is being wasted or being put to good use on behalf of the nation. The ‘Ballmer Template’ is available. We should copy it.