The redesign of the CE is not a static operation, and the panel anticipates a long-term need for BLS to continue to propose, test, and evaluate new data collection methods and technologies. Thus the panel recommends that BLS maintain a methods panel to allow such testing into the future.
Recommendation 6-12: BLS should fund a “methods panel” (a sample of at least 500 households) as part of the CE base, which can be used for continued testing of methods and technologies. Thus the CE would never again be in the position of maintaining a static design with evidence of decreasing quality for 40 years.
The current CE design has been in place since the late 1970s, and change is needed. The uses of the CE have grown over that time, and the current program tries to meet the needs of many users. The result is that the current surveys create an undesirable level of burden, and the data suffer from a number of quality issues. The panel believes that change should begin with BLS prioritizing the breadth and detail of data currently supporting the many uses of the CE so that a new design can most efficiently and effectively target those priorities.
The panel offers three prototype designs, each of which meets the basic requirements presented in Consumer Expenditure Survey (CE) Data Requirements (Henderson et al., 2011). A given prototype may be a better fit than others, depending on the revised objectives of the CE. The prototypes have considerable comparability as well. They all are designed to promote an increased use of records. They all incorporate self-administration (supported from the field representative, a tablet computer, and a centralized support facility) as a mode of data collection. They all use incentives to motivate respondents.
This report provides guidance to BLS in the next steps toward redesign. It recommends that BLS produce a roadmap for redesign within six months. The report provides guidance on how to incorporate new technology, particularly the tablet computer. The redesigned CE will still be a difficult survey for respondents, and the panel recommends developing an effective program of incentives to enhance motivation. It provides guidance in doing so.
The panel understands that a redesign of the CE will require significant targeted research to develop specific procedures that are workable and most effective. The report provides an outline of the research that is needed and the panel’s suggestions on the priority of those research endeavors. The panel recommends that BLS enhance the size and capability of its in-house research program in order to carry out the targeted research but also to