The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) is an agency within the Department of Commerce’s Economic and Statistics Administration, responsible for collecting and publishing economic data, research and analysis, and estimation methodologies. Government, business, and the public use BEA findings to track the nation's economic performance. Using raw data from the Census Bureau, the BEA produces the national income and product accounts, the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and international economic data among others, which inform critical decisions in monetary policy, tax and budget projections and business investment plans. The current BEA Director is Steve Landefeld.
The earliest predecessor to the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) was the Division of Commerce and Navigation in the Treasury Department, which was created in 1820 to compile and publish annual statistics on U.S. foreign commerce and later, domestic commerce. In 1856, the State Department also established a Statistical Office that compiled and published foreign commercial statistics. In 1866, the Division of Commerce was abolished after these duties were transferred to the newly created Bureau of Statistics, which also began compiling statistics about commerce between the continental United States and U.S. territories. Meanwhile in 1874, the State Department’s Statistical Office was renamed the Bureau of Statistics, and later the Bureau of Foreign Commerce. In 1903 the Treasury and State Department offices were combined as the Bureau of Statistics under the newly established Department of Commerce and Labor. The office was renamed the Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce in 1913, when the Department of Commerce was established.
In 1934, the office published its first estimates of national income at the request of the U.S. Senate, which wanted to measure the effects of the Great Depression. Its first report measured income for the nation, national income paid out (which measured the flow of income payments to individuals for goods and services), and national income produced (which measured the value of net national product). In 1938, the office began providing monthly estimates of national income paid out, as well as transfers of payments to individuals, such as Social Security benefits and veteran compensation. Income paid out became known as personal income in 1947.
An early example of agency analysis shaping policy was its 1939 article on the alcoholic beverage industry that assessed the state of the industry following the repeal of Prohibition. World War II also required immense economic data to aid in policy and planning. During this period, the agency stepped in to measure the productive capacity of industries to meet government purchases for war production, while still providing adequate non-war related goods and services. This led the office to begin to estimate the Gross National Product (GNP) and its expenditure components in 1942. Initially, GNP was estimated using income data, and calculated as the sum of national income produced, business taxes, and capital depreciation. During the next several years the office published numerous articles in the Survey of Current Business that presented new estimates of GNP expenditure components, such as consumer expenditures for various types of goods and services and gross private investment. The Survey of Current Business also analyzed the effectiveness of price controls, government war finances, and the impact of war policies on individual savings and debt.
In 1945, the Office of Business Economics was created to compile statistics and analysis and in 1953, and eventually subsumed the Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce. In 1947 the office published its first national income and product accounts (NIPAs) as a supplement to the Survey of Current Business, which showed how income and product measures related to one another and to various economic transactions of business, government, and individuals.
In 1972, during a reorganization of the Commerce Department’s statistical agencies, the Office of Business Economics was renamed the Bureau of Economic Analysis under the Social and Economic Statistics Administration, which became the Economic Statistics Administration in 1975.
On March 1, 2011, the Economics and Statistics Administration released the first comprehensive report on the status of American women since 1963, when the Commission on the Status of Women, established by President Kennedy and chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, produced a report on the conditions of women. Findings include data in the areas of education, income, employment, health, and crime.
Girls and Boys Together (by Gail Collins, New York Times)
The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) produces statistics about the performance of the U.S. economy that are closely watched and influences decisions by government, businesses, and the public. The agency’s data releases, research and analyses, and estimation methodologies are used in critical decisions on monetary policy, tax and budget projections, and business investment plans. Major BEA reports include the agency’s national income and product accounts (NIPAs), which include estimates of the gross domestic product (GDP). The agency also produces regional, industry, and international reports and statistics on issues such as economic growth, regional economic development, inter-industry relationships, and the United States’ position in the world economy. There are for major areas, or economic accounts, that the BEA produces reports on:
National Economic Accounts: Releases provide a comprehensive view of U.S. production, consumption, investment, exports and imports, and income and saving. Statistics include gross national product estimates, corporate profits, personal income and spending, and personal savings.
International Economic Accounts: Releases estimate the transactions between U.S. residents and foreign residents and the value of accumulated stocks of American-owned assets abroad and of foreign-owned assets in the United States. These estimates are presented in the international transactions accounts and the international investment position accounts, and are used to determine U.S. surplus or deficits. The direct investment programs are also required by law and are critical to understanding the impact of U.S. and foreign multinational companies on the U.S. and world economies.
Regional Economic Account: Releases provide information about the geographic distribution of U.S. economic activity and growth. The estimates of GDP by state and state and local area personal income, provide a consistent method of analyzing and comparing individual state and local area economies. This data is used to allocate over $300 billion in federal funds and are the basis for virtually all state spending and revenue forecasts.
Industry Economic Accounts: Releases include statistics on U.S. industries such as the annual industry accounts, the benchmark input output accounts, and the travel and tourism satellite accounts for the United States. This data is the basis for the national income product accounts and many other federal statistics such as the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s Producer Price Index.
From the Web Site of the Bureau of Economic Analysis
Customer Guide (pdf)
The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) releases are used by government officials to prepare budget estimates and projects and set monetary policy, among other activities. The federal government also distributes more than $300 billion in federal funds based on the information it receives from the regional estimates of GDP by the BEA. Industries and businesses also use BEA statistics to provide indicators of national economic activity, and to plan financial and investment strategies.
From 2002-2012 the BEA spent more than $2.2 million on contractors, according to a query of USAspending.gov. The top recipients and their percentage of all contracting are:
1. Dell Inc. $451,178 (20%)
2. Metzger Consulting Inc. $369,897 (17%)
3. Internet Programming and Consulting $308,000 (14%)
4. MPC Corporation $302,425 (14%)
5. JSJ Corporation $288,248 (13%)
From 2002-2012, the BEA gave one grant, totaling nearly $2 million to the nonprofit National Academy of Public Administration, according to USAspending.gov.
Federal officials fight back over criticism about salaries
A USA Today series in August 2010 a found that the average compensation for federal employees has doubled what private sector workers have earned over the past decade. Civil servants earned average pay and benefits of $123,049 in 2009, while private workers made $61,051 in total compensation, the newspaper found using statistics from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). It’s an argument many conservative and libertarian think tanks have made in the past. Officials from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) disagreed, saying that the use of the BEA data, which came from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, included low-skill restaurant, retail, and other service jobs that skewed the tally. Union leaders also derided the comparison for leaving out skill-level, age, experience, and geography. When federal and non-federal jobs are compared by level of work in different regions, federal employees actually made on average 22% less than workers in similar private-sector jobs, the OPM argued. The BEA data also includes a disclaimer that its statistics do not measure the level of work in a particular profession— a lawyer litigating multimillion-dollar malpractice lawsuits versus one conducting government audits—and therefore the data cannot be used to compare federal and nonfederal workers. Critics contend that the relatively high level of education among federal workers can't explain away such a wide disparity with the private sector. A more comprehensive study that might help settle the issue appears unlikely, The Washington Post reported, as officials said the BEA data is the best that is out there.
Federal workers earning double their private counterparts (by Dennis Cauchon, USA Today)
Federal officials fight back over criticism about salaries (by Lisa Rein, Washington Post)
Alternatives to GDP
A number of indices have been suggested to supplement or serve as alternatives of the GDP. These include Private Product Remaining, the Gini coefficient, The Genuine Progress Indicator, and the Human Development Index. (See GDP criticisms in debate section above.)
Alternatives to the G.D.P. (by Catherine Rampell, New York Times)
Alternative measures to US GDP to air this summer (by Thomas Sander, Social Capital Blog)
Criticisms in Calculating GDP
Critics have argued that while the GDP is widely used to gauge the nation’s economic health, it is limited in showing real standard of living—as it excludes several areas of production that have economic value, such as volunteer work or unpaid domestic services. It also excludes economic benefits from nature, argues Empire State College Professor Eric Zency. “If you let the sun dry your clothes, the service is free and doesn’t show up in our domestic product; if you throw your laundry in the dryer, you burn fossil fuel, increase your carbon footprint, make the economy more unsustainable—and give GDP a bit of a bump,” Zency wrote in a 2009 New York Times Op-Ed. Zency said the deep flaw in using national income to measure economic wellbeing, is that the GDP makes no distinction between items that are costs and items that are benefits. “If you get into a fender-bender and have your car fixed, GDP goes up,” Zency wrote. A number of “defensive and remedial spending” such as health care, pollution abatement, flood control, crime prevention, water treatment and school expenditures all increase the GDP, Zency wrote, but all these things don’t necessarily improve the standard of living, they only serve to restore or protect “the quality of life we already had.”
G.D.P R.I.P (by Eric Zency, New York Times)
GNP, PPR, and the Standard of Living (by Robert Batemarco, Review of Austrian Economics) (pdf)
Carol Carson, 1992-1995
Allan H. Young, 1985-1992
George Jaszi, 1963-1985
George Jaszi, Economic Analyst, 77 (New York Times obituary)