studies, pilot surveys, customer surveys, focus groups, and methodological research) and to establish a quick response capability. SRS has suggested four studies to begin the process: three focusing on cognitive testing of survey items and one to develop the quick response capability. With this generic clearance, SRS may be able to conduct more research in a timely way to improve survey content and methodology.
Item nonresponse in the R&D surveys outside the two surveys of the federal government is rampant. It is especially serious in the industrial survey, where many large companies refuse, as a matter of company policy, to furnish data unless the survey is mandatory.
In most years, the industrial survey is a blend of mandatory and voluntary items. From 1958 to 1960, only the item on “cost of R&D performed” was mandatory, and that was because it was deemed a requirement for the economic censuses. Then, in 1961, the “federal governments funds” portion of the cost of R&D performed became mandatory. Two more data items—“net sales and receipts” and “total company employment”—were added as mandatory items in 1969. These four items were the only mandatory items until, in 2001, “cost of R&D performed within the company by state” was made mandatory. For 2002, OMB approved that all items be mandatory, because of the 2002 economic censuses, but in 2003, there was a return to the five mandatory items. The Census Bureau has requested that all items be mandatory in the year of economic censuses; it has also proposed that the number of items be scaled back in interim years.
On a test during the 1990 survey cycle of the industrial survey, SRS looked at the effect of reporting on a completely voluntary basis. The sample was split in two. One-half was asked to report as usual on the mix of mandatory and voluntary items; the other half was asked to report on a completely voluntary basis. The result was a decrease in the overall response rate. The test showed that the mandatory items experienced a sharp decrease in response when voluntary reporting was permitted. However, no information is available on what would happen to voluntary items if mandatory reporting were enforced. The primary problem with the industry survey is the voluntary items, which can have very large nonresponse.
Neither SRS nor the Census Bureau know the reasons why companies do not report the voluntary items, although there are many suggestions. The panel recommends increased reliance on mandatory reporting between economic censuses to improve data quality, reduce collection inefficiencies, and provide greater equity among reporters. However, the panel also recommends additional research on the topic of voluntary versus mandatory reporting, to investigate whether mandatory reporting is the most effective strategy (Recommendation 8.5).