Government data collection is tremendously important—the limits of government data sometimes dictate the limits of our knowledge. Not surprisingly, though, government data collection is consistently overlooked. Here's a very rough idea for how to improve government data collection: If a group of private citizens is willing to pay for a reasonable addition to the government's data collection, the group should be able to compel the government to make the addition to its data collection. Here's how it would work. The Consumer Expenditure Survey (CES) reports the amount consumers spend on "apparel and services," but doesn't break down consumers' spending on apparel any further. Suppose a handful of economists are studying the use of t-shirts, and they really wish the CES broke down consumer spending on apparel into spending on t-shirts vs. pants. If it would cost the Bureau of Labor Statistics an additional $50,000 to collect the data on consumer spending on t-shirts vs. pants, and the economists are willing to pay the BLS for the increased costs, then the economists should be able to compel the BLS to break down spending on apparel into spending on t-shirts vs. pants. Obviously, the government would have to set limits on the kinds of additions to its data collection practices that it's willing to make. For example, a private group couldn't pay the government to include on the Time Use Survey a question about the respondent's sexual encounters. But if it would be appropriate for the government to make a particular addition completely voluntarily, then private groups should be able to pay the government to make the addition. A lot of data collection can be done privately, of course. But there are economies of scale in data collection that make it more efficient for the government to collect certain additional data. Moreover, accuracy concerns tilt the scales in favor of having the government collect certain additional data. As long as the government deems the additional data collection appropriate, then why shouldn't private groups be able to pay the government to conduct the additional data collection? I don't know how you would solve the collective action problem—that is, how to stop one of the economists studying t-shirts from refusing to help pay for the addition to the CES but then using the addition in his research. The idea of granting the paying parties a temporary monopoly on the use of the additional data, like in intellectual property, makes me very uneasy. Even with the collective action problem, though, I think my plan would improve government data collection at no (monetary) cost to the taxpayer. This is an incomplete thought, so feel free to offer your input.