Box: Satellite Accounts

BEA has developed several satellite accounts for transportation services, environment and mineral resources, and research and development. Satellite accounts are frameworks designed to expand the analytical capacity of the national accounts without overburdening them or interfering with their general-purpose orientation. In this role, satellite accounts organize information in an internally consistent way that suits the particular analytical focus at hand, yet they maintain links to the existing national accounts. Further, because they supplement the existing accounts, rather than replace them, they can serve as a laboratory for economic accounting in that they provide room for conceptual development and methodological refinement.

Satellite accounts can add detail or other information about a particular aspect of the economy to that in the existing accounts; for instance, they can integrate monetary and physical data. They can arrange information differently, perhaps by cutting across sectors to assemble information on both intermediate and final consumption. For example, a satellite account can assemble business expenditures on training—treated as intermediate consumption in the existing accounts—and education-related expenditures by households and government to analyze the role of education in the economy. They can use a classification other than that used in the existing accounts. For example, they can identify expenditures on "research in education" as part of research expenditures even though they are included in education expenditures in the national accounts.

The terminology and concepts associated with satellite accounts reflect the experiences of several countries that have constructed them, largely on an ad hoc basis, for fields such as health, education, agriculture, research and development, and transportation. The System of National Accounts 1993, which presents the newly revised international accounting guidelines, includes a chapter that provides a general framework for satellite accounts and demonstrates how that framework can be used for some of the fields in which such accounts would be most useful. This chapter represents, in a real sense, the coming of age of satellite accounts as an analytical tool.