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Understanding Business Dynamics: An Integrated Data System for America’s Future
currently in place.5 We have already cited the business list reconciliation example. Because there are advantages and disadvantages to both the BLS and Census Bureau systems—and thus reconciliation should take place downstream to minimize loss of information—a need for data sharing between these two agencies is implied. For example, data on sole proprietors, which originate from Schedule C filings to which only the Census Bureau currently has access, would need to be included. Even without worrying about reconciliation per se, a unified register implies data sharing. Note, though, that since the Schedule C data will include all individuals, including those whose activities can more accurately be described as a hobby than as a business, it is likely that some revenue threshold would need to be imposed before a sole proprietor is actually placed on the list.
Not every piece of information on the business register needs to be accessible to every agency, but a much broader range of users should be allowed than is currently the case. The idea of different agencies having access to the business register, with a well-defined set of rights (in terms of which fields are available) and responsibilities (in terms of confidentiality), is similar to a point made for the United Kingdom (Hampton, 2005). The recommendation there was that various agencies should be given access to only those fields in the database that were necessary for their regulatory efforts. The central database, along with data sharing, would play a large part in reducing the administrative burden on UK companies.
In addition to data sharing among agencies, the basic elements of the employer section of the business register should also be made accessible to all qualified agency and research users to serve as a sampling frame for their surveys.6 Researcher access to some confidential data is already allowed in
“Data sharing” is the exchange of information collected from businesses and individuals or reported to the IRS in identifiable form for statistical purposes. Identifiable form means information “that permits the identity of the respondent to whom the information applies to be reasonably inferred by either direct or indirect means.” Statistical purposes involve “the description, estimation, or analysis of the characteristics of groups, without identifying the individuals or organizations that comprise such groups.” They also include methods and procedures related to the “collection, compilation, processing, or analysis” of data about these groups and the development of related “measurement methods, models, statistical classifications, or sampling frames” (National Research Council, 2006, p. 56).
Nonagency use of a business list should be tightly monitored. One danger is that, if there is a business register that can be used as a master sampling frame then, potentially, more surveys will be launched, particularly if the cost for using the frame is trivial. This could lead to the unacceptable consequence of increasing burden placed on business respondents. Our primary concern here is with agencies’ programs that currently must construct frames (or purchase them from Dun & Bradstreet) because they do not have access to BLS or the Census Bureau lists.