Federal Paperwork:

General Purpose Statistics and Research Surveys of Businesses

GGD-99-169: Published: Sep 20, 1999. Publicly Released: Sep 20, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the federal paperwork burden, focusing on the: (1) paperwork burden associated with federal agencies' general purpose statistics and research (GPS/R) surveys that are directed towards businesses; (2) nature, use, and burden of selected GPS/R surveys; and (3) 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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