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One spot where government spending is going up

May 3, 2013: 5:51 PM ET

Amid constant stories of sequester-related cuts, here's a rare place where the government is increasing its spending: The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently ramped up its monthly survey of businesses, leading to the highest response rate on record for the February jobs report.

Perhaps that's one reason the revisions were so large.

Here's what happened: When the Labor Department released the jobs report Friday morning, it wasn't just the April numbers that came as a welcome surprise. As it usually does, the Bureau of Labor Statistics also revised the two prior months, and this time, those revisions showed that the economy added 114,000 more jobs than originally reported.

The February revision was especially dramatic. The government first reported that 236,000 jobs were created in February, but now it's saying 332,000 were added that month. That makes it the strongest month for job growth since the Census hired thousands of temporary workers in mid-2010.

Why such a big change? The BLS received more of its surveys, and in the case of the February report, the response rate was 97% -- the highest on record since they started tracking response rates in 1981.

Each month, the BLS undertakes the gargantuan task of surveying about 145,000 businesses and government agencies nationwide. The BLS uses a variety of techniques, including Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewing -- a system where an interviewer follows a script and fills in a computerized survey.

Other methods enable businesses to self-report their data over the phone, fax or a web survey. Large companies also provide electronic files to BLS that includes data from all their work sites.

But not all the surveys come in on time. When BLS first reports the data, it has usually received about 73% of the survey results. By the second time it reports the figure, that response rate usually is in the low 90s. And by the third reading, it's more like 95%.

Recently, the BLS invested more funds in its survey program, after cutting costs in other areas. A BLS economist explains:

As part of a multi-year initiative, CES consolidated some of the State and area programs and that cost savings was applied to the Data collection program.  Additional funds were able to be spent on Computer Assisted Telephone Interview (CATI) collection, which has a higher response rate than if the respondents were to report solely using web collection. January was the first month those improvements could be seen in the sample collection.

If the response rates continue to improve, perhaps we should be looking for more large revisions ahead.

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