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Sept 29 -- The Census Bureau has asked OMB to approve Small Business Pulse Survey (SBPS) Phase 3, beginning November 2020, and invites public comments to OMB on the SBPS proposal by October 30, 2020. The OMB Statistical Policy Office indicates interest in receiving comments from AEA members, such as: observations on the value of the SBPS for economic research and analysis; requests that Census to examine the desirability and feasibility of revisions to the survey instrument, data collection methods, or data products; and offers for external consultation with Census if and as further revisions are considered. OMB also encourages teaching faculty to consider class assignments to submit comments on proposed economic data collections.
 
On April 22, 2020, the Office of Management and Budget authorized clearance of an emergency Information Collection Request (ICR) to the U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Census Bureau to conduct the Small Business Pulse Survey. The emergency clearance enabled the Census Bureau to collect urgently needed data on the experiences of American small businesses as the coronavirus pandemic prompted business and school closures and widespread stay-at-home orders.

The emergency clearance for the Small Business Pulse Survey will expire on October 31, 2020. In anticipation of a continuing need for Small Business Pulse Survey data, the Census Bureau is putting forward this request through normal (non-emergency) clearance channels for the purposes of continuing the survey beyond the emergency clearance expiration.

The continuation of the Small Business Pulse Survey is responsive to stakeholder requests for high frequency data that measure the effect of changing business conditions during the Coronavirus pandemic on small businesses. While the ongoing monthly and quarterly economic indicator programs provide estimates of dollar volume outputs for employer businesses of all size, the Small Business Pulse Survey captures the effects of the pandemic on operations and finances of small, single location employer businesses. As the pandemic continues, the Census Bureau is best poised to collect this information from a large and diverse sample of small businesses.
 
We refer to the initial approval by OMB to conduct the Small Business Pulse Survey as “Phase 1” (April-June 2020), and the second approved clearance as “Phase 2” (August-October, 2020). This ICR requests regular (non-emergency) approval to conduct “Phase 3”, starting November 2020.
 
Anticipating that businesses will continue to be affected by the pandemic, and as new developments are expected later this year and into 2021 (including the continuation of government assistance programs that target small businesses; policy shifts including the loosening or tightening of restrictions on businesses or customers; changing weather or seasons on businesses that rely on serving customers outdoors; and new research, vaccines, and/or medications or treatments for the coronavirus), the Census Bureau will move forward with a Phase 3 as proposed in this ICR. The questionnaire used in Phase 2 will continue to be used in this next phase. Acknowledging that circumstances may evolve and information needs on specific topics may intensify, change or diminish over time, the Census Bureau may propose revisions to the questionnaire via the Non-Substantive Change process. These plans also will be made available for public comment through notice in the Federal Register.

Phase 3 of the Small Business Pulse Survey will continue in cooperation with other federal agencies to produce near real-time experimental data to understand how changes due to the response to the COVID-19 pandemic are affecting American small businesses and the U.S. economy.

The Phase 3 survey will carry forward questionnaire content from Phase 2. Content has been provided by the Census Bureau, SBA, FRB, MBDA, OTA, BTS, NTIA, and ITA. Domains include business closings, changes in employment and hours, disruptions to supply chain, changes in capacity, finances, and expectations for future operations.
 
Research data products will potentially allow us to provide more detailed information about the businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic without creating additional reporting burden on small business owners.  For example, linking the SBPS to the Annual Business Survey, which includes detailed information about the sex, race, and ethnicity of business owners, will allow the Census Bureau to provide SBPS estimates by these owner characteristics.  Linking the SBPS to our data infrastructure will allow us to control for business size, age, access to credit before the pandemic, and other characteristics of businesses and their owners when measuring the effect of changing business conditions due to the pandemic on small businesses.

In the longer term, the Census Bureau will use the linked SBPS to understand whether low burden, high frequency collections such as the SBPS are predictive of future state business outcomes.   For example, if business applied for but did not receive federal assistance is this a significant predictor of that business’s future growth or survival?   Because some of the business outcomes we are interested in are potentially longer term than the survey, we cannot fully evaluate the usefulness of the SBPS in the short or medium terms.  

Small Business Pulse Survey data: https://portal.census.gov/pulse/data/
Proposal for Phase 3: https://www.reginfo.gov/public/do/PRAViewICR?ref_nbr=202009-0607-005  Click on IC List for survey instrument, View Supporting Statement for narrative of uses, methods, plans.
FR notice: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/09/29/2020-21424/agency-information-collection-activities-submission-to-the-office-of-management-and-budget-omb-for
 
Point of contact: Nick Orsini, Associate Director for Economic Programs (301) 763-6959  nick.orsini@census.gov    

For AEA members wishing to provide comments, "A Primer on How to Respond to Calls for Comment on Federal Data Collections" is available at https://www.aeaweb.org/content/file?id=5806

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