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2017 Commodity Flow Survey (CFS)

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

This section answers the most frequently asked questions about the Commodity Flow Survey. If you don't find an answer to your particular question, please contact staff.

Questions and Answers - by Category


1.  Is this survey mandatory?

Yes. As part of the Economic Census, the CFS information collection is required by law under Title 13, United States Code (13 U.S.C. Sections 131 and 193). Section 224 makes reporting mandatory.

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2.  What is the Commodity Flow Survey?

The Commodity Flow Survey (CFS), a component of the Economic Census, is the only comprehensive source of multi-modal, system-wide data on the volume and pattern of goods movement in the United States. The CFS is conducted through a partnership between the U.S. Census Bureau and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology (OST-R), Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), Department of Transportation (DOT). The survey provides a crucial set of statistics on the value, weight, mode, and distance of commodities shipped by mining, manufacturing, wholesale, and selected retail and services establishments, as well as auxiliary establishments that support these industries. The U.S. Census Bureau will publish these shipment characteristics for the nation, census regions and divisions, states, and CFS defined geographic areas. This survey also identifies export and hazardous material shipments since the 2007 survey cycle.

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3.  Why are you doing this survey?

Federal, state, and local government agencies spend over $100 billion annually on transportation programs. The CFS provides data that are critical to these agencies in making a wide range of transportation investment decisions for developing and maintaining an efficient transportation infrastructure that supports economic growth and competitiveness.

Transportation planners require the periodic benchmarks provided by a continuing CFS to evaluate and respond to ongoing geographic shifts in production and distribution centers, as well as policies such as just in time delivery.

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4.  Who uses the data?

The Commodity Flow Survey data are used by policy makers and transportation planners in various federal, state, and local agencies for assessing the demand for transportation facilities and services, energy use, and safety risk and environmental concerns.

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5.  How often is the survey conducted?

The survey is conducted every five years and is a component of the Economic Census.

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6.  Can I be paid for completing this survey?

No. The law authorizing this report (Title 13, U.S. Code) does not authorize funds for payment.

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7.  Our company only does local shipping. Should we be removed from the survey?

No. The Commodity Flow Survey covers all types of shipments including local, long distance, and export.

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8.  We are a small business. Do our shipments really matter?

Firms of all sizes are represented to provide a complete measure of shipping activity.

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9.  My company was in the survey last time. Why am I in it again?

The Census Bureau makes every effort to limit respondent burden. Specific sampling requirements based upon a combination of industry, geography, and firm size, may make it necessary to include your company in the survey.

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10.  How often will I have to report?

You are required to report for a sample of shipments during a specified one-week period in each of the quarters during the calendar year.

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11.  What is a shipment?

An outbound shipment is a movement of commodities from your establishment to another single location, in one trip. Single shipments may have multiple vehicles, such as unit trains or truck convoys, but only one destination.

Commodities sent from your location to multiple destinations constitute multiple shipments. Each location on the route to which your commodities are delivered is considered one shipment.

Shipments to Include:

  • Any materials picked up by the customer ("customer pick-up")
  • Only those shipments that were sent from the address listed in Item A
  • Shipments made from the location listed on Item A on behalf of another establishment (Drop-Shipments)
  • Shipments of commodities of all sizes, by any mode of transportation (e.g., parcels, truck, railroad)
  • Any shipment of products from this location to another location of the company that are intended for sale (e.g., products moved from this location to a company warehouse)
Shipments to Exclude:

  • Drop-shipments, made from another location other than the shipping address in Item A
  • Internal administrative items such as inter-office memos, payroll checks, business correspondence
  • Promotional items sent to potential customers free of charge
  • Refuse and waste items such as scrap paper, waste, and recyclable materials unless this location is in the business of selling these materials
  • Items moved from this location to another location of the company if not intended for commercial activity (e.g., the transfer of office furniture to be used at another location of this company)

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12.  What is a commodity?

"Commodities" refer to items that your company produces, sells, or distributes. Waste-products (without value) of your location's operation are not considered commodities, and should not be reported.

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Completing the Survey

13.  Besides reporting online, are there any other ways to report?

Reporting online is the preferred means to provide data for this survey. If you are unable to complete your report via the internet, please contact us to discuss alternate reporting options.

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14.  How long will it take to complete this survey?

Public reporting burden for this collection of information is estimated to average 2.5 hours per response, including the time for reviewing instructions, searching existing data sources, gathering and maintaining the data needed, and completing and reviewing the collection of information.

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15.  We do not have time to complete the survey. How can we be removed?

You cannot be removed from this survey. Your response is required by law. Title 13 United States Code, Sections 8(b), 131, and 193, and Title 49 United States Code, Section 6302, authorize this collection. Sections 224 and 225 require your response. The U.S. Census Bureau is required by Section 9 of Title 13 to keep your information confidential and can use your responses only to produce statistics. The Census Bureau is not permitted to publicly release your responses in a way that could identify your business, organization, or institution. Per the Federal Cybersecurity Enhancement Act of 2015, your data are protected from cybersecurity risks through screening of the systems that transmit your data.

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16.  My establishment's location is no longer in business. What should I do?

If your establishment location is no longer in business, please answer "Item C-Operating Status" in the questionnaire. Select "Ceased operation" and enter the date ceased operation in the field provided. Please also leave additional information regarding your operating status in "Item J-Remarks" of the questionnaire.

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Sample Selection

17.  Who is included in the survey?

The survey covers establishments in the mining, manufacturing, wholesale, and selected retail and service industries, as well as auxiliary establishments that support these industries.

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18.  How did you get my company's name and address?

Your company name and address was selected from a sampling frame extracted from the Census Bureau's comprehensive centralized database of business establishments throughout the United States.

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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | BHS Team |   Last Revised: January 04, 2018 14:14:21