More Useless Government Information Gathering

Apparently I am required by law to fill out an "annual accommodation report" from the US Census.  Just what I needed.  The IRS, state sales tax authorities, and the Department of Commerce all gather this same information, but for some reason the Census Bureau needs me to repackage it for them  ("estimate time only 34 minutes -- thanks alot").  In fact, they need the data so bad that I am required by law to respond to their request. 

Here is the weird part.  First they ask for revenues including both lodging revenues and sales of merchandise, all as one single number.  Then, they ask for "operating expenses" in which they want me to exclude the cost of any merchandise sold.  What is the point of gathering a revenue number that includes merchandise sales but a cost number that excludes the cost of goods purchased for resale?  Bizarre.  My only guess is that this is so they can stack industries up without double counting, but that makes no sense either.  If this were the case, they would ask me to eliminate all product purchases (e.g. toilet paper for the bathrooms, cleaning supplies).  Also, wouldn't they in that case also ask me to leave out services purchased from other companies?

Postscript: The form has this notice:  "Your report to the Census Bureau is confidential by law.  It may be seen only by persons sworn to uphold the confidentiality of Census Bureau information and may be used only for statistical purposes.  The law also provides that copies retained in your files are immune from legal process."

Does anyone above the age of eight really believe this?  Ask major league baseball players what they think about promises of confidentiality and immunity from legal process.  (emphasis added)

With Barry Bonds still in their sights,
federal investigators probing steroids in sports can now use the
names and urine samples of about 100 Major League Baseball players
who tested positive for performance enhancing drugs, following a
ruling Wednesday from a federal appeals court.

The 2-1 decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
overturned three lower court decisions and could help authorities
pinpoint the source of steroids in baseball. It could also bolster
the perjury case against the star outfielder, who is under
investigation for telling a grand jury he never knowingly used
performance-enhancing drugs.

Investigators seized computer files containing the test results
in 2004 during raids of labs involved in MLB's testing program. The
samples were collected at baseball's direction the previous year as
part of a survey to gauge the prevalence of steroid use. Players
and owners agreed in their labor contract that the results would be
confidential, and each player was assigned a code number to be
matched with his nam


  1. SuperMike:

    Useless? Are you kidding? These numbers are crucial for justifying all kinds of crazy pork. I took an planning class in college (part of geography, called urban, but if you think urban planners stop at city limits...) and when someone wants to justify some project (Like a dam), one way they can calculate the ecomonic input is by using the economic sector data from the census to build up a complicated feedback-heavy numerical model that compares the economic activity in an area with what larger trends suggest it might be with the enhancement. A lake of x size in a particular region provides a certian amount business to a business like the blogger's which spends some of that money at a gas station, which spends some of that money on people which spend some of that money at local resturants, which spend some of that money on local suppliers and so on. They call the aggregate of the increase the economic benefit of the project, and then they try to figure out if it'll increase the tax base enough to "pay for itself" Needless to say, there are countless ways to massage these numbers, and in some regard, they're only really limited by the ingenuity of the planner.

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  4. Richard:

    I regularly fill out forms for tax authorities, and this census form sounds more like a tax questionnaire. Usually when I fill out tax forms that ask for information such as revenue, and operating expenses, its so the authorities can use the info to compute various calculations which they then use to form industry averages, or to compare your results with the indsutry average.

    It sounds like they may use the ratio of operating expenses to sales to calculate some measure of operating "efficiency" for your business. Likewise, if they collect payroll data as well then they can see how much of your operating expenses is made up of labour costs which will tell them how "labor intensive" your particular business is etc.

    Out of curiosity I looked on the census webiste and found this:



    To provide periodic national estimates on operating expenses for merchant wholesale, retail trade, and selected service industries. The United States Code, Title 13, authorizes this survey as part of the Economic Census and provides for mandatory responses.


    But then again, all this could just be something for government employees to do to keep themselves in a job....

  5. Bob Longendyck:

    Is there any legal requirement to supply them with ACCURATE data?