Census Bureau refuses to say how much it's spending on 'swag' 

As part of the promotional efforts to get Americans to participate in the Census, the Census Bureau has been handing out various tchotchkes -- coffee mugs, notebooks, insulated lunch bags, fans etc. -- with the department logo on them. The OC Register asked the Census Bureau how much they were spending on these items and was told to buzz off:

Well, the total cost of the 2010 census is expected to come in at some $14.5 billion, officials said (see their cost breakdown below).

          But how much of that $14.5 billion was spent on swag? None of your bee’s wax, we were told.

Samantha O’Neil, of the Census Bureau Public Information Office, would say only this: The communications campaign is costing $338 million (advertising, marketing, public relations) and “additional field operations” is costing $654 million. Paraphernalia spending is included in both of those pots of money, but, “I do not have a cost breakdown per item or for specific spending on promotional items.”

OK, so that’s nearly $1 billion. And some portion of that $1 billion paid for coffee mugs and lunch bags. We understand that she might not have details on what these items actually cost at her fingertips, we said, but surely someone in purchasing does. We’d like to see those details as soon as possible.

To which O’Neil responded: “We cannot provide detailed pricing information on promotion item costs because the information constitutes a trade secret of our main contractor — DRAFT FCB.”

Ah.  DRAFTFCB. That would be one of the world’s largest advertising agencies. Founded in 1873 as Lord & Thomas.

And it needs to hide the cost of the coffee mugs it provides to the U.S. government or it will somehow perish?!

Why should you know how much these things cost? You're only paying for it.

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Mark Hemingway

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