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.