Federal Paperwork: General Purpose Statistics and Research Surveys of Businesses Page: 4 of 32
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We estimate that all businesses' financial costs to complete these 180
surveys were between about $219 million and $305 million. However, the
costs imposed on an individual business to complete even several of these
surveys may be quite small. Businesses are frequently required to respond
to the surveys and may face possible criminal or civil sanctions for failure
to do so. Two federal agencies-the Census Bureau in the Department of
Commerce and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in the Department of
Labor (DOL)-accounted for more than half of the estimated
governmentwide GPS/R burden-hour total. Within these 2 agencies, 14
large surveys, each with at least 100,000 estimated burden hours,
accounted for nearly two-thirds of the governmentwide GPS/R burden-
The characteristics of the 14 large Census and BLS GPS/R surveys directed
at businesses varied widely. 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. 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. Survey topics ranged from changes in
the selling prices of goods and services to the characteristics of businesses
owned by minorities and women. The agencies' estimates of the time
needed to complete each survey varied from a few minutes to 6 hours. The
estimated number of respondents ranged from about 27,000 for one survey
to more than 2 million in others. 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. All of the surveys provide economic information
that is widely used by federal, state, and local governments; businesses;
and the general public. 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. Census and BLS
estimated that these 14 surveys imposed $179 million in financial costs on
businesses in fiscal year 1998.
Both BLS and Census have taken steps to minimize or reduce the burden
associated with these 14 GPS/R surveys, including (1) designing and
administering the survey instruments to minimize burden on the survey
respondents, (2) using information technology to enable businesses to
respond to surveys electronically, and (3) using administrative records in
other agencies as a substitute for or a supplement to surveying the
businesses directly. However, both agencies said that statutory
confidentiality restrictions are an obstacle to greater burden reduction
GAO/GGD-99-169 Federal Paperwork
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United States. General Accounting Office. Federal Paperwork: General Purpose Statistics and Research Surveys of Businesses, report, September 20, 1999; Washington D.C.. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc294533/m1/4/: accessed April 18, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.