How the Content of the Agricultural and Economic Censuses Is Determined and Used

IMTEC-83-4: Published: Sep 2, 1983. Publicly Released: Oct 3, 1983.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the 1982 agricultural and economic censuses, focusing on how the Bureau of the Census determines their content and how the data are actually used. The law specifies that every 5 years certain activities, such as agriculture and manufacturing, be covered by these censuses.

GAO found that, due to the large volume of data and the variety of data users involved, the Bureau did not attempt to formally verify the need for data. However, it did attempt to design the census questionnaires to enable it to collect accurate and useful data by: (1) reviewing the results of prior censuses to determine questions that elicited incomplete or insignificant responses; (2) soliciting comments from a broad range of data users; and (3) submitting questionnaires for external reviews. These various procedures resulted in few major changes to the questionnaires. GAO found that, for the many Federal and non-Federal organizations that use the data, the economic censuses provide: an integrated database for computing and adjusting major Government economic indicators; input for designing economic and statistical surveys; and a basis for developing marketing strategies in the private sector. The agricultural census is used by Federal and State agencies and the private sector to analyze long-term trends and local area data and contains the only published, consistent county level data. The Department of Agriculture's Statistical Reporting Service, the provider of the most current agricultural information, bases many of its economic indicators and publications on the agricultural census data.

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