Box: Earlier Reviews of the Economic Accounts

In the 1950's, there were two major reviews of the accounts. The first, National Economic Accounts of the United States: Review, Appraisal, and Prospects, was prepared in 1957 by the National Accounts Review Committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research at the request of the Bureau of the Budget (predecessor of the Office of Management and Budget). The Committee was chaired by Raymond Goldsmith, and the members included Richard Easterlin, Joseph Pechman, and Richard Ruggles. The report was presented at a hearing of the Subcommittee on Economic Statistics of the Joint Economic Committee. The second review, Critique of the United States Income and Product Accounts, from 1958, was the result of a symposium on the accounts held by the Conference on Research in Income and Wealth, which functions as a research forum for work on economic measurement. These reviews dealt with emerging issues of the time, many of which related to the expansion in the complexity and scope of the accounts that was necessary to accurately portray the U.S. economy. They also dealt with conceptual issues, such as the treatment of capital gains and the coverage of nonmarket production and consumption, and they discussed the need for better integration of the income and product, flow of funds, and other components of the existing accounts.

In 1971, BEA published The Economic Accounts of the United States: Retrospect and Prospect. This volume, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the SURVEY OF CURRENT BUSINESS, was a series of 43 papers contributed by some of the country's most prominent economists, including past and future Federal Reserve Board chairpersons (Arthur Burns and Alan Greenspan), Nobel laureates (Wassily Leontief, Simon Kuznets, Lawrence Klein, and Paul Samuelson), Council of Economic Advisers chairpersons (Arthur Okun and Raymond Saulnier), and American Economic Association presidents (Robert Eisner, Robert Gordon, and Charles Kindleberger). BEA catalogued and prioritized the suggestions from these papers, and BEA's Director at that time, George Jaszi, responded.

In 1977, the Gross National Product Data Improvement Project Report was released. This report was prepared by the Advisory Committee on Gross National Product Data Improvement under the auspices of the Office of Management and Budget. The committee was chaired by Daniel Creamer, and the members were Rosanne Cole, Edward Denison, Raymond Goldsmith, Alan Greenspan, and John Kendrick. The report, referred to as the Creamer Report, was undertaken as a result of concerns over relatively large revisions in the GNP accounts in the early 1970's and focused on needed improvements in the source data, rather than on needed extensions and conceptual modifications.

In 1979, the Conference on Research in Income and Wealth addressed several aspects of the national income and product accounts pertaining to their role as a system of information about the behavior of the economy. Topics included the concepts and structure of the accounts, the issues involved in deflation and the treatment of quality change in price indexes, and source data. The last topic included an evaluation of major parts of the Creamer Report.

In 1982, the General Accounting Office published The Bureau of Economic Analysis Should Lead Efforts to Improve GNP Estimates. This study was intended to evaluate revisions to GNP estimates and to assign different priorities to the Creamer Report's 155 recommendations, made to 24 Federal agencies, for improving the accounts. It, too, focused more on statistical than on conceptual issues and—as the title indicates—urged BEA to take a more proactive role in obtaining the source data needed to improve the accounts.