May 3, 2018

Improvements Needed to Achieve More Efficiency, Quality of Census Bureau’s Annual Economic Surveys

The U.S. Census Bureau should develop a detailed concept and implementation plan for an Annual Business Survey System (ABSS) to replace the current suite of largely separate annual economic surveys, says a new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The committee that wrote the report was charged with examining the design, operations, and products of 11 surveys and recommending improvements that would enable the surveys to better answer questions about the evolving economy. The ABSS would improve the utility of annual business data, reduce response burden on businesses, and more effectively use scarce resources.

Historically, the Bureau’s economic statistics programs developed sector by sector, and they continue to operate largely independently. Consequently, inconsistencies in questionnaire content, sample and survey design, and survey operations make the data not only more difficult to use but also more costly to collect and process and more burdensome to the business community than they should be.

The recommended ABSS should administer a core set of questions to all respondents with appropriate industry customization, use administrative records to the maximum extent possible for greater efficiency and accuracy, and incorporate small-area models to produce subnational geographic estimates with sufficient accuracy for users’ needs. The Census Bureau should have ongoing programs to seek data user input and to evaluate and improve quality throughout the implementation of the ABSS. The committee recognized that it will take time to move from the current survey suite to the ABSS, and recommended that the Census Bureau assemble a team with sufficient authority to lead the ABSS development and identify initial activities for implementation that can build support for the project as a whole.

Advance copies of Reengineering the Census Bureau’s Annual Economic Surveys will be available beginning at 11 a.m. EDT on Thursday, May 3. To obtain a copy, reporters should contact the Office of News and Public Information at tel. 202-334-2138 or email