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July 26 -- The Census Bureau invites comments to OMB by August 25, 2023 regarding the continuation of the Business Trends and Outlook Survey with revisions, including the addition of multi-unit businesses to the sample and a supplemental set of questions on the uses of artificial intelligence.

The mission of the U.S. Census Bureau (Census Bureau) is to serve as the leading source of quality data about the nation's people and economy; in order to fulfill this mission, it is necessary to innovate to produce more detailed, more frequent, and more timely data products. The Coronavirus pandemic was an impetus for the creation of new data products by the Census Bureau to measure the pandemic's impact on the economy: the Small Business Pulse Survey (SBPS) and the weekly Business Formation Statistics. Policymakers and other federal agency officials, media outlets, and academia commended the Census Bureau's rapid response to their data needs during the largest economic crisis in recent American history. The Census Bureau capitalized on the successes that underlaid the high frequency data collection and near real time data dissemination engineered for the SBPS by creating the Business Trends and Outlook Survey (BTOS).

BTOS uses ongoing data collection to produce high frequency, timely, and granular information about current economic conditions and trends. BTOS is the only biweekly business tendency survey produced by the federal statistical system, providing unique and detailed data during times of economic or other emergencies. The BTOS initial target population is all nonfarm, single-location employer businesses with receipts of $1,000 or more in the United States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. The current sample consists of approximately 1.2 million single-unit businesses split into six panels. Data collection occurs every two weeks, and businesses in each panel are asked to report once every 12 weeks for one year. Current data from BTOS are representative of all single location employer businesses (excluding farms) in the U.S. economy and are published every two weeks. The data are available at the national and state levels, in addition to the 25 most-populous Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs). North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) sector, subsector, and state by sector are also published, as are employment size class, and sector by employment size class data, according to the same timeline.

Data from BTOS are currently used to provide timely data to understand the economic conditions being experienced by single unit businesses; BTOS provides near real time data on key items such as revenue, paid employees, hours worked as well as inventories which is being added in for the second collection cycle. BTOS also provides high level information on the changing share of businesses facing difficulties stemming from supply chain issues, interest rate changes, or weather events. Previously, there had been few data sources available to policymakers, media outlets, and academia that delivered near real-time insights into economic trends and outlooks. BTOS data has been used by the Small Business Administration to evaluate the impact of regulatory changes. Use of the BTOS data (or additional requirements) is being determined by the Economic Development Agency (EDA) to understand the impact of natural disasters on U.S. businesses for the EDA to then guide the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and/or policymakers in assisting in economic recovery support missions.

In the approved OMB package for BTOS, the Census Bureau proposed an incremental path to reach the full scope of BTOS. This request is the first scope expansion to propose adding multi-unit businesses (those with more than one location or establishment) to BTOS. BTOS is currently limited in scope to include only single-unit businesses. Despite comprising a relatively small share of the total number of businesses, multi-unit (MU) businesses are responsible for most of the employment, payroll, and revenue/sales in the United States and contribute disproportionately to economic activity. In addition, MU businesses are on average larger than single-unit businesses. Adding these businesses would help ensure that BTOS results are representative of the full economy. The Census Bureau still proposes an incremental path to the final scope of BTOS in order to learn at each implemented stage and to allow for modifications based on lessons learned or internal/external stakeholder feedback in prior iterations.

For the first year of BTOS, the content remained unchanged at 26 questions. After two rounds of cognitive testing and guidance from data users, the Census Bureau will move to a set of core questions and supplemental content, when needed. In addition to adding multi-unit businesses, the Census Bureau also proposes to change the content for the second year of BTOS collection. The majority of the content will be referred to as the core content and comprises most questions included on the BTOS instrument during the first year of collection. Core content includes measures of economic activity that are broadly applicable across non-farm sectors and are important across the business cycle and during economic or other emergencies. Core content is also complementary to key items found on other Economic surveys, such as revenues, employees, hours, and inventories. Core items may also include concepts that may become core topics. The core content remains an at approximately six minutes of burden. A skip pattern will be added for the new core concept of inventories to avoid additional burden if a business does not carry inventories.

Supplemental content will be included on the instrument as needed and with a regular periodicity. It will be designed to provide urgently needed data on an emerging or current issue. The supplement will include a set of questions that perform a deeper dive into a focused topic that requires timely data. The Census Bureau estimates the supplemental questions will impose an additional 2 minutes of burden. [The topic of the proposed supplemental content is the uses of artificial intelligence.]

Consideration for core and supplemental concepts will be based on data consistency, how the questions performed on the current BTOS, the results of cognitive testing, stakeholder feedback, and the ability to collect complementary items on monthly, quarterly, annual, or census programs to provide context and benchmarking. Thus, the Census Bureau is requesting three years of approval from OMB to expand the scope of BTOS to include multi-unit businesses and adjust the core and include supplemental content.
 
BTOS: https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/btos.html
Census submission to OMB: https://www.reginfo.gov/public/do/PRAViewICR?ref_nbr=202307-0607-003 Click on IC List for questionnaire, View Supporting Statement for technical documentation. Submit comments through this site.
Draft Core and Supplemental Content: https://www.reginfo.gov/public/do/PRAViewIC?ref_nbr=202307-0607-003&icID=251680  
FR notice inviting public comment: https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2023-15812
 
For AEA members wishing to submit 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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