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Understanding Business Dynamics: An Integrated Data System for America’s Future
outsourcing payroll and human resource functions, payroll processing firms may be able to provide a timely picture of small business dynamics. At a minimum, data collection systems should be structured in a manner similar to those used by these payroll processing firms in order to simplify the survey response by businesses. Whenever possible—that is, when businesses keep records in the same way and with the information that government wants—responding to government data collection requests should be made no more difficult than gathering the information necessary for carrying out basic administrative functions for the firm. This is more likely to be the case for information such as payroll, but less so for information relating to, say, energy consumption or investment.
One way to facilitate the collection of administrative data is to encourage increased adoption of extensible business reporting language (XBRL). XBRL is a member of the family of languages based on XML, or extensible markup language, which is a standard for the electronic exchange of data between businesses (see www.xbrl.org). In terms of U.S. government data collection, XBRL has already made some inroads with regulators. For example, the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council uses XBRL for quarterly bank reporting. In terms of broader types of data collection, tax authorities in several countries (e.g., the United Kingdom’s HM Revenue and Customs and the Australian Tax Office) have begun to encourage the use of XBRL for corporate tax returns.
As described in more detail in Appendix A, administrative data are currently used in the United States mainly to create the business registers of the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Tax records from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) form the basis of the Census business register, and ES-202 forms from state unemployment agencies forming the basis of the BLS Business List. Similarly, in the United Kingdom, administrative data from “pay as you earn” employee and value-added taxes form the starting point for the business register. In some European countries, especially in Scandinavia, essentially all interactions of individuals or businesses with the government generate administrative data that are maintained and available for analysis. One reason the United States has two different business registers is that the use of IRS data is extremely limited for confidentiality reasons. The advantages and disadvantages of a unified business registry are discussed below.
In addition to making use of administrative data, burden management should include methods for distributing survey response requirements across firms evenly, to the extent it can be done without damaging the representativeness of the survey data. Two equivalent firms should, over time and surveys, be asked to carry a similar burden—acceptable burden should be defined to be proportional to the size of the firm. Cooperation of most or all of the largest enterprises is required in nearly all federal surveys. Small to