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BEA’s Innovation Spurs Projects for Richer Economic Statistics

1 April 2017 213 views No Comment

Brian Moyer oversees the Bureau of Economic Analysis’ production of official economic statistics, which provide a comprehensive, up-to-date picture of the U.S. economy that aids in decision making by businesses, policymakers, and households. He holds a PhD in economics from American University.

To continue capturing a full and detailed picture of a dynamic, $18 trillion-plus economy, the people of the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) have to be economic data pioneers. They are committed to innovating and exploring, whether the bureau is enhancing existing statistics or creating new ways to measure the U.S. economy. That mind-set is crucial to delivering on BEA’s mission: producing the timeliest, relevant, and accurate economic statistics for the American public in an objective and cost-effective manner.

Here is a snapshot of a few of the data projects BEA’s economists are working on.

The Digital Economy. We are moving forward on a three-pronged plan to better measure fast-changing technologies and their effect on the U.S. economy. One focus is refining price measurements to better capture innovations in high-tech goods and services such as software, cellphones, personal computers, computer servers, cloud computing, and medical imaging equipment.

To tackle improvements in quality-adjusted price measures for such products, BEA is doing the following:

  • Conducting an in-house review of GDP and its components to identify areas in which existing quality-adjusted prices could be improved or new indexes could be introduced
  • Partnering with source data agencies, including the Federal Reserve Board and Bureau of Labor Statistics, to improve software and medical equipment price measurement
  • Engaging experts for specialized research such as building new price indexes for cloud computing

In addition, BEA economists are developing a roadmap to define and measure the digital economy. BEA is researching how to more accurately measure the impact of information technology on the overall U.S. economy and how to improve the measurement of digitally enabled commerce.

Third, BEA is researching the economic impact of “free” entertainment such as Facebook apps and internet games, which are largely supported by advertising revenue. And BEA is committed to better understanding the impact of technology-enabled, peer-to-peer access to goods and services—typically referred to as the “sharing economy.”

Health Care. Created in 2015, our new set of health care statistics break out spending by the treatment of disease, such as circulatory diseases or cancers, rather than by the place of service, such as a hospital or doctor’s office. Each year, BEA plans to release a fresh batch of health care statistics, building a longer time series. Data are currently available for 2000 through 2013. Figures for 2014 will be released later this year.

These data offer new insights into health care, which accounts for about 18 percent of the U.S. economy. After years of research, BEA created a “blended account,” which combines data from multiple public and private sources, including large claims databases covering millions of enrollees and billions of claims.

In its next steps, BEA plans to research linking changes in the costs of treating diseases to improvements in the quality of treatments, including advances that lead to better health outcomes. That’s one of the biggest challenges in precisely measuring medical spending and prices—not unlike what BEA is confronting in the high-tech sector.

BEA also plans to build a detailed input-output framework for health care spending, giving users a way to better analyze the production of goods and services by health care industries. BEA will incorporate prices that reflect the costs of treating diseases into the input-output framework.

There’s More. We have other innovative data projects in the wings, including laying the groundwork for a new set of statistics—a small business satellite account. It would measure, for the first time, the size and health of a sector that’s often at the leading edge of risk-taking, entrepreneurship, and economic growth in the United States.

BEA is also exploring the feasibility of measuring economic growth in the nation’s 3,000-plus counties. These first-of-their-kind BEA statistics would help businesses identify local markets for their products, assist local governments seeking to attract investment, and give a fuller picture of the U.S. economic landscape.

On the global front, BEA is working to expand statistics to provide a more detailed look at how businesses buy and sell services around the world. Quarterly statistics on U.S. trade in services will be expanded to cover 90 countries and country groups (from the current 38.) Details will be published about some of the most dynamic sectors, including research and development, intellectual property, and medical services.

Data Tools. We are also creating new ways to access our data. The newest offering makes data available through the bea.R Library, an open-source data tool for users of the statistical programming language “R.” This gives users a quick way to access our economic statistics, requiring only a few lines of code to do so. BEA’s data also is available through its application programming interface (API), interactive data tables, and other data tools at the BEA website.

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