Survey Overview (2017 survey cycle)

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The Business Research and Development Survey is the primary source of information on R&D expenditures and R&D employees of for-profit, nonfarm businesses with 10 or more employees operating in the United States.

Data collection authority.

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 0607-0912, expiring 29 February 2020.

Major changes to recent survey cycle.

Criteria for inclusion in the survey was changed from companies with a U.S. presence that had 5 or more employees to those that had 10 or more employees. Also, collection of data on business innovation activities was dropped from the predecessor survey, the Business R&D and Innovation Survey (BRDIS) and the survey was renamed the Business Research and Development Survey (BRDS). Data on business innovation activities are now collected by the Annual Business Survey.

Key Survey Information

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Initial survey year.

2017. BRDIS collected data for 2008–16 and the predecessor to BRDIS, the Survey of Industrial R&D (SIRD), collected data for 1953–2007.

Reference period.

CY 2017.

Response unit.

Companies with known R&D activity (approximately 18,000), known to have no R&D activity (approximately 1,000), and with unknown R&D activity (approximately 26,000).

Sample or census.

Sample survey of for-profit companies with a U.S. presence and 10 or more employees engaged in the mining, utilities, construction, manufacturing, wholesale trade, retail trade, or services industries.

Population size.

A total of 1,097,607 companies.

Sample size.

A total of 45,075 companies prior to data collection. The actual number of companies that remained within the scope of the survey between sample selection and tabulation was 41,998.

Key variables.

Key variables of interest are listed below.

  • R&D performance (domestic and foreign R&D for U.S.-based companies)

  • 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)

  • R&D capital expenditures

  • R&D application and technology focus areas

  • Industry codes based on the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS)

  • Business activity codes

  • Geographic location of domestic and foreign R&D performance of U.S.-based companies

  • Sales

  • Patenting, licensing, and technology transfer activities

Survey Design

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Target population.

The target population consists of all for-profit nonfarm companies that are publicly or privately held, have 10 or more paid employees in the United States, have at least one establishment that is classified in an in-scope sector based on NAICS, is in business during the survey year, and is physically located in the United States.

Sampling frame.

The Business Register, maintained by the Census Bureau, is the source used to create the sample frame for BRDS.

Sample design.

BRDS has a stratified probability sampling design that uses both simple random sampling and probability proportional to size (PPS) sampling within strata. Stratification is based on R&D activity and a NAICS-based industry code. For companies with known R&D activity, PPS sampling is based on R&D performance. For companies with unknown R&D activity, PPS sampling is based on annual payroll. Companies known to perform large amounts of R&D and companies with large amounts of payroll are selected with certainty.

Data Collection and Processing

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Data collection.

BRDS uses multimode data collection by paper booklet or Web reporting instruments. Respondents have the option to report by mail (1%) or on the Web (99%).

Data processing.

All data submitted by respondent companies are reviewed to ensure that data fields are complete and that data are internally consistent. Given the size and complexity of BRDS, many survey responses contain errors that require correction or unusual patterns that require validation. Several hundred automated edit checks are applied to improve the efficiency of analyst data review and correction. Approximately two-thirds of these edit checks are designed to catch arithmetic errors and logically inconsistent responses (balance edits). The remaining edit checks are designed to flag outliers for further analyst review (analytical edits). During editing, if additional information or data corrections are needed, respondents are contacted. If additional information or corrected data cannot be obtained from respondents, data are imputed.

Estimation techniques.

The general methodology used to produce estimates from BRDS involves sums of weighted data (reported or imputed), in which the weights are the product of the sampling weight and the nonresponse adjustment factor. However, there are some exceptions, which are described in the technical notes in the annual BRDS and BRDIS reports.

Survey Quality Measures

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Sampling error.

Estimates based on the total sample have small relative standard errors (RSEs). An RSE is the standard error of the survey estimate divided by the survey estimate and then multiplied by 100. For 2017, RSEs for domestic R&D performance paid for by the company, paid for by others, and total were 0.35%, 0.45%, and 0.30%, respectively. Estimates of sampling errors associated with each cell in the detailed statistical tables are available by request.

Coverage error.

Coverage error is minimal because the Business Register, the source for BRDS, is continually updated and contains comprehensive coverage of all domestic businesses.

Nonresponse error.

The unit response rate was 74.5% for 2017. Except for estimates of counts, patents, patent licensing agreements, and intellectual property protection, unit nonresponse is handled by adjusting weighted reported and imputed data by multiplying each company's sampling weight by a nonresponse adjustment factor. For estimates of counts, patents, patent licensing agreements, and product or process innovation, other adjustments for nonresponse are made. For count estimates for the BRDS checkbox items that involve intellectual property protection, both unit and item nonresponse are handled using a nonresponse weight adjustment based on R&D groups, industry sampling strata, and the presence or absence of R&D activity. Detailed descriptions of the adjustments for nonresponse are available in the annual reports containing detailed statistical tables.

Measurement error.

Known sources of measurement error include differences in respondent interpretations of the definitions of R&D activities; differences in accounting procedures, specifically, the characterization and reporting of R&D activities by large defense contractors funded by the U.S. federal government; the reporting of R&D activities by companies classified in the R&D services industry, NAICS 5417; 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. No quantitative metrics of measurement error are produced, but ongoing efforts to minimize measurement error include 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 BRDS for 2017, BRDIS for 2008–16, and SIRD for 1991–2007 are available at Data from SIRD dating to 1953 are available at

Data comparability.

BRDS is a cross-sectional survey designed to produce annual estimates of R&D performance and related statistics, as was its predecessors, BRDIS and SIRD. However, many of the companies that perform large amounts of R&D are included in the survey each year. Thus, there is a longitudinal aspect to the survey. Because of this and the generally low sampling variability of the annual level estimates, estimates of year-to-year changes are generally precise. Estimates for changes covering a longer time span will generally be less precise.

Except for the discontinuance of the collection of business innovation data by BRDIS and the transfer of the production of business innovation statistics to the Annual Business Survey, the transition from BRDIS to BRDS produced no breaks in the series for the items common to both surveys.

There is no conclusive evidence that the redesign of SIRD to create BRDIS caused breaks in the series for the items common to both surveys, because no substantial changes in scope and methodology were introduced. Significant efforts were made to preserve the comparability of the data series and to minimize the effects of (1) changes in the assignment of companies to industry strata, (2) the inclusion of data on worldwide activities, (3) changes in the measurement of employment, and (4) changes because of the use of a modular survey questionnaire. Nonetheless, possibly as a result of improved reporting instructions, an unanticipated drop in the number of full-time equivalent scientists and engineers was reported between the last cycle of SIRD (2007) and the first cycle of BRDIS (2008).

Data Products

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BRDS data are published in NCSES InfoBriefs and reports containing detailed statistical tables in the Business Research and Development, Business R&D and Innovation, and Industrial R&D series. Data from BRDS are also used in the congressional report Science and Engineering Indicators.

Electronic access.

Results from SIRD are available at NCSES's Industrial Research and Development Information System historical data website,

BRDS contains confidential data that are protected under Title 13 and Title 26 of the U.S. Code. Restricted microdata can be accessed at the secure Research Data Centers administered by the Census Bureau’s Center for Economic Studies (CES). Researchers interested in analyzing microdata can submit 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 website at 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.

Contact Information

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For additional information about this survey, please contact the Project Officer.

Raymond M. Wolfe
Project Officer
Research and Development Statistics Program
National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics
National Science Foundation
2415 Eisenhower Avenue, Suite W14200
Alexandria, VA 22314

Phone: (703) 292-7789