September 2013

Research highlights of the Consumer Expenditure Survey redesign


Challenges. The process of redesigning the CE Survey poses a number of challenges. Defining survey requirements is a complex task, particularly given the CE Survey’s diverse user community. Identifying the needs of varied users and then reconciling competing interests is likely to leave some users with unmet needs. Additionally, the process of gathering, responding to, and acting on stakeholder input must be integrated into the redesign process such that progress on the project is maintained. Ultimately, however, the redesign process is constrained by two high-level factors: (1) the final survey design must produce the estimates required by the CPI and other major data users, and (2) long-term operational survey costs must not exceed specified budget levels.

History. Numerous tasks in the last 4 years on behalf of the Gemini Project's mission have been completed. Beginning in 2009 and continuing through 2010, project planning involved the establishment of a survey research database and a multidimensional data quality definition to guide survey monitoring. In 2010, the CE program signed a contract with the Committee on National Statistics (CNSTAT) to convene an expert panel for the purpose of producing a set of CE Survey redesign recommendations. That same year, efforts were made to identify the needs and priorities of CE Survey stakeholders through a forum convening a broad range of data users. The following year, panels and workshops were held to examine current practices, new technologies, and other survey methodologies that could inform the redesign process.

In 2012, the CE program started evaluating the design options and available research in order to develop a design proposal. This effort was informed by the release of the final report of CNSTAT’s expert panel.5 The CNSTAT report reflected high-level thinking and insights from nationally recognized experts in economics, statistics, and survey methodology on factors affecting the quality of CE Survey data and included options for improving the way the data are collected. The report concurred with the CE program on issues affecting the survey, providing broad recommendations as well as specific design proposals and cost estimates. The report also served as an important advocate for additional resources required to improve the CE Survey. The report outlined promising design features, including a one-sample design, flexible recall periods and interview structure, increased use of technology to encourage real-time reporting, increased reliance on self-administration, increased use of records, reduced proxy reporting, mixed-mode data collection, and large respondent incentives.

Current status and timeline of major milestones. The Gemini Project is currently moving from the investigative stage to the decisionmaking stage. The Gemini design team, tasked with recommending a design for the new CE Survey, developed a full redesign proposal in the spring of 2013. Currently, feedback is being solicited from BLS stakeholders. The proposal will be revised and comments from outside data users on the potential impact of the new design will be solicited and evaluated. Concurrently, a roadmap for transitioning the survey to its new design will be developed. The roadmap will be completed by 2014, and then a 5-year testing and evaluation period will commence.


5 Don A. Dillman and Carol C. House, eds., Measuring what we spend: toward a new Consumer Expenditure Survey, National Research Council (Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2012),

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About the Author

Jennifer Edgar

Jennifer Edgar is a research statistician in the Office of Survey Methods Research of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Brett McBride

Brett McBride is an economist in the Office of Prices and Living Conditions of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Adam Safir

Adam Safir is a statistician in the Office of Prices and Living Conditions of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.