Survey Overview (2020 survey cycle)

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The Annual Business Survey (ABS) provides information on selected economic and demographic characteristics for businesses and business owners by sex, ethnicity, race, and veteran status. Further, the survey measures research and development (R&D) for microbusinesses, new business topics such as innovation and technology, as well as other business characteristics.

Data collection authority.

The National Science Foundation Act of 1950, as amended, and the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010; collected under Office of Management and Budget control number 0607-1004, expiring 31 May 2025.

Major changes to the recent survey cycle.

Not applicable.

Key Survey Information

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Initial survey year.

Calendar year 2017.

Reference period.

Calendar year 2019.

Response unit.


Sample or census.

Sample survey of for-profit employer companies with a U.S. presence engaged in the mining, utilities, construction, manufacturing, wholesale trade, retail trade, or services industries.

Population size.

Approximately 4,900,000 employer companies.

Sample size.

Approximately 300,000 companies.

Key variables.
Key variables of interest are listed below.
  • R&D performance

  • Total and R&D employment

  • Sources of R&D funding

  • Type of R&D work (basic research, applied research, and development)

  • Type of R&D cost (e.g., salaries and fringe benefits)

  • Demographic and entrepreneurial characteristics of the business owner

  • Indicators of innovation

  • Patents and intellectual property

  • Globalization

Survey Design

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Target population.

The target population consists of all companies that allocated most of their annual domestic payroll to for-profit entities and had at least one establishment that had paid employees based on the company's Internal Revenue Service Form 941 that covers 12 March 2020, was classified in an in-scope North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) industry, was physically located in the United States, and was in business at the end of calendar year 2020.

Sampling frame.

The Business Register (BR) serves as the primary input to the sampling frame. The BR is the Census Bureau's comprehensive database of U.S. businesses. BR data are compiled from a combination of business tax returns, data collected from the economic census, and data from other Census Bureau surveys.

Sample design.

The ABS has a stratified systematic sample design. Stratification is based on demographic characteristics of the company owners and a NAICS industry code assigned to the company based on its constituent establishments.

Data Collection and Processing

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Data collection.

The ABS collects data electronically and via mailout paper questionnaire.

Data processing.

All data submitted by respondent companies are reviewed to ensure that data fields are complete and that data are internally consistent. Survey responses often include errors that require correction or unusual patterns that require validation. Automated edit checks are applied to improve the efficiency of data review and correction. Edit checks are designed to catch arithmetic errors and logically inconsistent responses (balance edits). The remaining automated edit checks are designed to flag outliers for further review (analytical edits). If additional information or data corrections are needed, respondents may be contacted to clarify or correct data. If additional information or corrected data cannot be obtained from respondents, data are imputed.

Estimation techniques.

Estimates are produced from sums of weighted data (reported or imputed). Exceptions are described in detail in the annual reports containing detailed statistical tables.

Survey Quality Measures

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Sampling error.

Estimates of sampling errors associated with the detailed statistical tables will be available by request.

Coverage error.

There can be both undercoverage error, where units are not included in the frame, and overcoverage error, where units included in the frame are actually out of scope for the population of interest. The ABS uses the prior year Business Register to construct the frame, so any changes in businesses that would change the inclusion or exclusion of the business to the survey scope could be sources of coverage error. Prior to tabulation, survey units' information is updated with the most recent available Business Register data to mitigate this source of error.

Nonresponse error.

Unit nonresponse will be treated by adjusting weighted reported and imputed data by multiplying each company's sampling weight by a nonresponse adjustment factor. Detailed descriptions of the adjustments for nonresponse are available in the Technical Notes of the ABS data tables (

Measurement error.

Expected sources of measurement error include differences in respondent interpretations of the definitions of R&D activities and differences in how companies count and report numbers of employees in various categories, including whether they work on R&D full time or part time. Little public information exists for most of the small businesses surveyed by the ABS, so it is difficult to determine whether companies are reporting R&D that satisfies the survey's definitions, particularly where the development of software and internet applications are concerned. Although quantitative metrics of measurement error are not available, there are ongoing efforts to minimize measurement error, including questionnaire pretesting, improvement of questionnaire wording and format, inclusion of more cues and examples in the questionnaire instructions, in-person and telephone interviews and consultations with respondents, and post-survey evaluations.

Data Availability and Comparability

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Data availability.

Data produced from the ABS will be available at

Data comparability.

The ABS is a cross-sectional survey designed to produce annual estimates of R&D performance and related statistics.

Data Products

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ABS data will be published in NCSES InfoBriefs and Data Table Reports in the Business and Industry R&D series.

Electronic access.

Results from this survey will be available on the NCSES Web site at The ABS contains confidential data that are protected under Title 13 and Title 26 of the U.S. Code. Restricted microdata will be available at any of the 15 secure Research Data Centers administered by the Center for Economic Studies (CES) at the Census Bureau. Researchers interested in accessing microdata can apply for a restricted-use license by submitting a proposal to the CES, which evaluates proposals based on their benefit to the Census Bureau, scientific merit, feasibility, and risk of disclosure. To learn more about the Research Data Centers and how to apply, please visit the CES page on research with restricted-use data. For additional information about the application process, including how to initiate a project, please contact the administrator at the primary site where the research will be conducted. Per the Federal Cybersecurity Enhancement Act of 2015, the data are protected from cybersecurity risks through screening of the systems that transmit the data.

Contact Information

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For additional information about this survey, please contact the Survey Manager.

Audrey Kindlon
Survey Manager
Tel: (703) 292-2332

National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics
Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences
National Science Foundation
2415 Eisenhower Avenue, Suite W14200
Alexandria, VA 22314
Tel: (703) 292-8780
FIRS: (800) 877-8339
TDD: (800) 281-8749