The Government Paid Me $10 To Tell Them How Awesome My Job Is

So the receptionist at the office started* walking around handing out envelopes — envelopes larger than a paycheck — which is sometimes not a good sign. But lo and behold, opening the envelope revealed a nice crisp, clean $10 bill courtesy of [a proxy for] the government!

This is an employment survey designed to assess “worker attributes and job characteristics”. It’s funded by the DoL and the ETA [Employment & Training Administration]. And they expect to become “the nation’s primary source of occupational information”.

But my normal railing against government — wondering why they need this source of information, wondering if they’ll be any more “primary” of a source than, or to point out how the bland questions in their little booklet doesn’t come close to explaining my job — is a whole different discussion. My wheels got spinning when I saw the $10 bill paper-clipped to the front of the paper. After all, they explain quite clearly that it’s a voluntary survey. Yet there’s a $10 bill on the front.

Now, I’ve seen “free” money before. At least once a week I get a check in the mail from some scamming company, and all I need to do to sign up for their service is to cash it. But this is cash. And the survey is voluntary. The worst threat they can make is that if I don’t fill out the survey, they’ll inflate away the value of that $10 note. But they were going to do that anyway, and anyway I spent it before it was worth less than $9, I’m sure.

Immediately it’s clear that they’re getting a lot more from DoL/ETA to run this survey. It makes me wonder what kind of model their funding is based on. Is it a pay-per-completed-survey model? If so, one would think the gov’t is paying a much higher price for each completed survey. Is it a simple grant? One wouldn’t think so, because the company (RTI) running the survey could probably get higher compliance by sending out higher numbers of surveys overall.

Part of me wonders why they sent out cash rather than something that was contingent on completing the survey — but I know why they didn’t do that. If I’d received something like that, I’d have pitched it. If I’d received something traceable (like a check), I’d have pitched it. Frankly, if they hadn’t had a web-enabled response form [and I’d been forced to “write” a response], I’d have pitched it. Heck, if they’d told me that compliance is mandatory, that’d probably make me more likely to pitch it — assuming, of course, that doing so wouldn’t get me in trouble with the nice folks who sign my paychecks.

So I understand why they send out the cash. After all, even I — as someone who cares little about government intelligence-gathering — ended up filling it out due the implicit guilt of taking the “free” $10.

But what I don’t understand is why this data is so worthwhile that the federal government would spend so much money collecting it? Actually, I understand that too. It’s not their money.

* PS – “Started” is a relative term. This happened in October and I haven’t gotten around to writing this post until now.

  • Quincy

    I’d have pitched it in protest of the gratuitous italicization of “Knowledge”.