The BE-12 benchmark survey is BEA's most comprehensive survey, in terms of both the number of companies covered and the amount of information gathered, on foreign direct investment in the United States. The survey is conducted once every 5 years in place of the BE-15 annual survey. The BE-15 annual survey is conducted during the 4 years in between benchmark surveys.

Smaller businesses that are not required to file annual surveys are required to participate in benchmark years, during which there are no size exemption thresholds. Larger businesses that file the BE-15 survey annually will instead fill out the BE-12 in a benchmark year. A response is required from entities subject to the reporting requirements, whether or not contacted by BEA.

The benchmark is needed to capture shifting economic trends. At the same time, limiting this comprehensive survey to a five-year schedule reduces the burden on businesses, large and small.