Bureaucracy Creep

One of the irritating tasks I am required by law to perform for the government is fill in a bunch of detailed information about my business for the US Census Bureau.  This is one of a number of reports the government sends me each year to fill in.  The first thing I look at on these forms is whether they are required by law.  If they are not, they immediately go in the trash can.  In particular, I could spend 110% of my free time filling in Department of Labor surveys that seem to come for each state we operate in.  The only entertainment value I get associated with these many surveys is the calls I sometimes get from government workers asking me if I would please fill in the survey.  Generally I explain to them that 1.  My time is too valuable to waste on this stuff and 2.  There is no way in hell I am going to give them a bunch of data they will likely only use to justify new regulations that make my business life even harder.

The two reports that are required (this does not include of course the dozens of required tax forms, licensing forms, and corporate registration forms we fill out every year) are the annual Census report and the EEO-1 report.  I already discussed a while back the 15-20x increase in size and complexity of the EEO-1 report, where about 3600 new cells have been added that have to be filled in.  This year the Census Accommodations Industry Report had a huge increase in complexity -- last year's report had one cell for last years' total expenses (though the Census bureau's definition of total expenses was so arcane that it took an hour or so to calculate the number).  This year, instead of a single number for expenses there are 48 different cells to be filled in with detailed categories of expenses.  Here are just two of the many categories they demand:

d.  Purchased repairs and maintenance to machinery and equipment - Expensed repair and maintenance services to machinery, vehicles, equipment, and computer hardware. Exclude materials, parts, and supplies used for repairs and maintenance performed by this firm's employees

e.  Purchased repairs and maintenance to buildings, structures, and offices - Include repair and maintenance to integral parts of buildings (e.g., elevators, heating systems). Exclude materials, parts, and supplies used for repairs and maintenance performed by this firm's employees. Report janitorial and grounds maintenance services in line 4c

Perhaps I am a failure as a business person, but my company does not track expenses in this detail, or at least in these specific categories.   The exercise was not only absurdly time-consuming, it was impossible.  Depending on my mood, I might have just filled it all in with random guesses.   However, even though it is not supposed to be used this way, I couldn't shake the sense that someone someday might try to use it to compare against my tax returns (which are prepared quite carefully and accurately) and try to raise red flags.  So I left it all blank.  I will be interested to see how they respond.


  1. Jaedo Drax:

    Eventually, someone will figure out that automating this form filling is worthwhile and design a bot that takes the information from your accounting database, and put it into your eeo-1 form.

  2. DirtyJobsGuy:

    I get the same type of forms (different industry) and wonder about what piece of legislation demanded this detail. I half suspect that the law requires a cost benefit analysis for many things so the agencies create complex questionnaires to allow almost any new regulation to be cost effective.

  3. kidmugsy:

    A friend of mine likes to complete forms with little whimsies, as an experiment to see if anyone ever reads them. His conclusion is that most go unread.

  4. Dan Wendlick:

    Snarky answer: to make sure they have the data to justify the decision they already made. After all it's always better when decisions are data driven.

    Case from personal history: I worked at a company implementing new big software system for government agency. Part of this was to ensure the new system provided all of the required functionality, which by the time we finished meant the same functionality as the old system. WE had on guy who insisted he needed a particular report run on a weekly basis. When we challenged it, he said he needed it to verify the total on the report against the data on the screen. The report was pulling the figure from exactly the same field in both the report and the new online screen, so there was no way for them to possibly be different. We proposed eliminating the report in our scope of work with an explanation of why. The deletion was denied and we wrote the report and the scheduling job.

    So as far as I know, that report is still getting run, someone is still comparing it to the online screen, and then filing it away, never to be seen again.again.

  5. davesmith001:

    But the point is that there is no accounting database that has this information.

  6. mlhouse:

    I always reply in the additional comments "Why are you asking my business these questions?"

  7. CraigNCowartEsq:

    Trump needs to appoint you to one of his advisory committees on reducing government regulation.

  8. Rick C:

    Nonsense. Any decent payroll/HR package should have all that information. For the new EEO-1, which I was just looking at today, it asks you to break employees down into about a dozen categories (craft workers, executives, etc.) , and then a dozen pay ranges within each category, and then report how many people from each of a dozen or so ethnicities are in each little box.

    Wildly tedious to do by hand. Guess what? If your payroll software cant break the employees out into the pay bands, you're probably too small a company to need to even file the EEO-1. If you have minimally competent HR software to go along with it, it already knows what each job's category is and the ethnicity of each employee.

    From there it's straightforward for the software to calculate.

    No company big enough to have to file that report has any business filling it out by hand.

    Whether it's a waste of time is another matter.

  9. herdgadfly:

    The DOL reports somewhere have an invitation for you to fill in the numbers, even if you are guessing. Only the Department of Agriculture is far worse. They have room after room of people and bank after bank of computers busy defining the crop yields and projecting the size of harvests - all in the interest of driving the underlying futures market pricing for corn, beans, wheat, et al. Whatever Ag projects becomes reality in the market place. Soy beans are up about a buck and a half over last year at $10.13/bushel - all because of those awful yields expected this year. Meanwhile the silos are filled with last years crop awaiting buyers. Remember that 2017 beans are not yet planted!

  10. AnObserver:

    Several times past I threw those surveys away and that was that. The last time (before retirement) the new rubric had a follow up with a threat and a second follow up with an ugly, specific threat for non compliance. My business was small and holiday based, time was always dear, and I don't have to tell you the details of how fairly good business records don't even begin to provide answers to their questions and it was necessary to go back to either original source records and recompile or there just not being business records to document what they were asking. So, on my wife's advice, I just pulled sh*t out of my a** and totally made up every answer to every question beyond the ability of my accounting software to answer - which was most of them. But it got it done with minimal time and it wasn't kicked back. I predict you'll be getting your incomplete survey returned with a cheerful letter....

  11. jon49:

    Last year we received the "American Community Survey" with the threatening message that it is against the law not to fill it out. Of course, we didn't fill it out. There's a $5000 penalty for not filling it out. I don't think anyone has ever been fined that much though for not filling it out. Liberals scream that they have to put the threat on it otherwise no one would fill it out. But then if a business did the same thing liberals would have a hissy fit. Luckily we moved before the bureaucrat showed up to give us a hard time about it.

  12. johnmoore:

    He said he doesn't have the data. Don't make things up!

  13. Rick C:

    If he doesn't have data, how did he fill out the form last year, huh?

    (I'm talking about the demographic data, not the expense categories.)

  14. johnmoore:

    I'm talking about the expense categories, of course, as is he.

  15. Rick C:

    Good for you. I was talking about the EEO-1, since that's what Jaedo Drax mentioned.

    The expense thing is an entirely different report.

  16. Thane_Eichenauer:

    Your article bring to mind Ernest Hancock's saying "There are two types of people in the world,... Those who wish to be left alone and those who just won't leave them alone."

  17. Ike Pigott:

    Rick, I think you're grossly missing the nuance here. Warren runs lean operations, with employees doing a wide variety of jobs. While their ethnicities and pay are known constants, the exact number of hours spent on very specific types of tasks are not documented. And even with the receipts that indicate Express Oil changed the filter on a vehicle, the time was never coded, and there is retroactive headache in determining which sub-line of which section those minutes ought accrue.

  18. Ike Pigott:

    Do you believe there is a real commitment to that? On principle?

  19. CraigNCowartEsq:

    I hope, and certainly Coyote is committed.

  20. Rusty Bill:

    Nothing new. When I wore a blue uniform forty years ago, the standing joke was "the mission does not fly until the weight of the paperwork equals or exceeds the weight of the aircraft." The aircraft in question was an EC-130E (max takeoff weight @150,000 lbs.)

  21. Rick C:

    Again, I am talking about EEO-1, not the expense report, which is an entirely separate report. Warren kind of conflated them at the end there, but they're not the same at all.

    But don't take my word for it, go look at the form yourself. It's right here: https://www.eeoc.gov/employers/eeo1survey/upload/component-1-and-2-sample-2017-eeo1-report.pdf

  22. sjutte350:

    That's the point, flying right over your head, Rick.

  23. El Baconcabra:

    That's one of the few promises of his that I believe. He was a businessman and suffered from these things just as Warren has.

  24. Ike Pigott:

    Allow me to reframe the statement:

    Ordinary politicians make statements as "promises," for which there is a scorecard that can determine the degree of trustworthiness.

    Trump does not make campaign promises -- he makes statements to open a negotiation.

    I do not trust him to be committed to reducing regulation, because the "2-for-1" pledge was quite stupid. Meeting it does not in fact imply efficacy.

  25. Bruce Zeuli:

    I implemented a document printing system for a large Bank. These documents were created from a database, printed out and then filed for 90 days. They were never looked at by anyone. The documents were then pulled out of the filing cabinets and brought to the shredder where they were destroyed. This was to ensure compliance with a regulation requiring destruction of private financial documents 90 days after the transaction date.
    The fact that all of this data remained in the database was of no consern to the banking auditor. The bank passed their audit from then on and were never fined for noncompliance again.

    I keep this in mind when I read about documents that have been destroyed and so aren't available for information requests and such.

  26. Rick C:

    And there's the personal attacks. I'll take that as your surrender.

  27. sjutte350:

    Pointing out that you're missing the point is a personal attack?


  28. Rick C:

    What point do you think I'm missing? That these probably pointless reports are capable of eating up all sorts of time? I'm not.

    I'm also pointing out that griping about the huge time burden of something that competent software can do for you is also a waste of time.

    It's not as if Warren hasn't talked before--at length--about how he skips all the non-mandatory time-wasting reports.

  29. me:

    Relevant (from: http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2017/03/global-trade-danish-shipping-company-fact-day.html)

    Maersk had found that a single container could require stamps and approvals from as many as 30 people, including customs, tax officials and health authorities.

    While the containers themselves can be loaded on a ship in a matter of minutes, a container can be held up in port for days because a piece of paper goes missing, while the goods inside spoil. The cost of moving and keeping track of all this paperwork often equals the cost of physically moving the container around the world.