Box: A Three-Way Grouping of Actions To Improve the Accounts

Methodology and structure: The actions in this group include advances in economic accounting structures and concepts and changes in estimating methods that improve the accuracy, reliability, and relevance of the accounts. These actions reflect empirical and conceptual research—either directly or indirectly—through reference to international guidelines in economic accounting. They build on existing—albeit heretofore un- or underexploited—source data. Such improvements have several practical advantages: They often can be undertaken within BEA and require few additional resources in comparison with the resources required to pursue a new survey; the lead and start-up times are relatively short; and perhaps most important, because they build on existing source data, they do not increase respondent burden.

Source data modification and extension: These actions feature changes that can be made to existing sources of data: Updating samples and improving reporting on a survey, adding new questions and detail to a survey, broadening the coverage of a survey, increasing the frequency of a survey, or speeding up the processing of a survey or administrative source. In revising existing surveys, an effort is always made to see if outdated questions can be dropped or exemption levels raised by wider use of sampling and statistical estimation. Such efforts usually involve another statistical agency and, hence, tend to be more complicated and have longer start-up periods. Revising an existing survey also involves consultation with data users and respondents and clearance of the revised form through the Office of Management and Budget; these steps—along with time for notification, collection, and processing—add significantly to the lead time before the improved source data can be incorporated in the accounts. Data extensions also usually involve some increase in respondent burden and processing cost, but these costs are still significantly lower than those involved in conducting a new survey.

New source data: New surveys are pursued only when methodological solutions are not adequate and there is no existing survey that can be modified to fill a statistical gap. As in the cases of data extension, new surveys normally involve another statistical agency. New surveys also require a more extensive development process because both the benefits to the data users and the costs to respondents and statistical agencies are higher. As a result, the start-up and lead times are significantly longer.