Federal Paperwork

General Purpose Statistics and Research Surveys of Businesses Gao ID: GGD-99-169 September 20, 1999

Federal agencies collect information for various reasons, including verifying regulatory and tax compliance, determining eligibility for benefits, evaluating the effectiveness of federal programs, and developing economic statistics. However, information collection also imposes on a burden on individuals and businesses asked to furnish the information. This report describes (1) the paperwork burden associated with federal agencies' general purpose statistics and research surveys that are directed toward businesses; (2) the nature, use, and burden of selected general purpose statistics and research surveys; and (3) the agencies' efforts to reduce the burden associated with the selected surveys.

GAO noted that: (1) GPS/R surveys account for an extremely small proportion of the estimated paperwork burden that federal agencies impose on businesses; (2) nevertheless, federal agencies estimated that businesses spent 12.6 million hours responding to 180 of these surveys in fiscal year (FY) 1998; (3) GAO estimates that all businesses' financial costs to complete these 180 surveys were between about $219 million and $305 million; (4) two federal agencies--the Bureau of the Census and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)--accounted for more than half of the estimated governmentwide GPS/R burden-hour total; (5) within these two agencies, 14 large surveys, each with at least 100,000 estimated burden hours, accounted for nearly two-thirds of the governmentwide GPS/R burden-hour estimate; (6) the characteristics of the 14 large Census and BLS GPS/R surveys directed at businesses varied widely; (7) six of these surveys were part of the Economic Census, which is taken every 5 years, covers virtually all businesses, and serves to update many other business statistics; (8) other large GPS/R surveys were more frequent, more limited in the number of businesses surveyed, covered only certain types of businesses, or addressed more specialized topics; (9) survey topics ranged from changes in the selling prices of goods and services to the characteristics of businesses owned by minorities and women; (10) the statutes requiring or authorizing the surveys generally provide the agencies with a substantial degree of discretion to determine the scope, substance, and, in some cases, frequency of the surveys; (11) all of the surveys provide economic information that is widely used by federal, state, and local governments, businesses, and the general public; (12) although the agencies indicated that responses to 5 of the 14 surveys were voluntary, some of these voluntary surveys are mandatory in certain states under the laws of those states; (13) Census and BLS estimated that these 14 surveys imposed $179 million in financial costs on businesses in FY 1998; and (14) both BLS and Census have taken steps to minimize or reduce the burden associated with these 14 GPS/R surveys, including: (a) designing and administering the survey instruments to minimize burden on the survey respondents; (b) using information technology to enable businesses to respond to surveys electronically; and (c) using administrative records in other agencies as a substitute for or a supplement to surveying the businesses directly.

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