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September 22, 2011

Foreign-owned and -controlled firms would have to report less information about some aspects of their businesses to the federal government every five years, under revised regulations proposed Sept. 21 by the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) (76 Fed. Reg. 58420).

The proposed revisions to regulations for the benchmark survey of foreign direct investment (15 CFR Part 806) would raise reporting thresholds and eliminate several items of information collected, while adding some new questions, BEA said in a notice published in the Federal Register.

BEA and the Office of Management and Budget will take public comment on the proposal for 60 days.

The benchmark survey is BEA’s “most comprehensive survey of such investment in terms of subject matter,” the agency said. BEA uses the results to derive annual estimates of foreign direct investment activity from more frequent surveys of a sample of firms.

“These data are needed to measure the size and economic significance of foreign direct investment in the United States, measure changes in such investment, and assess its impact on the U.S. economy,” BEA said.

BEA’s most recent report on majority-owned U.S. affiliates of foreign multinational corporations showed that in 2009, these businesses reduced employment at a faster pace than the U.S. private sector as a whole.

All businesses that are at least 10 percent owned or controlled by foreign firms or individuals are required under the International Investment and Trade in Services Survey Act (22 U.S.C. 3101-3108) to provide information to the U.S. government on sales, employment, finances, and other activities. BEA previously revised regulations for firms participating in the annual surveys.

The amount of information required to be reported varies by the size of a U.S. affiliate’s assets, sales or gross operating revenue, and net income, according to BEA’s notice. The larger the company the more information is required. To minimize the reporting burden on smaller foreign-owned companies, BEA proposes to increase the reporting thresholds for three categories of firms. The new thresholds for the categories would be, in order: over $300 million in assets, sales or revenues, or net income, up from $175 million; over $60 million, up from $40 million; and $60 million or less. The smallest firms are subject to minimal recordkeeping requirements.

BEA proposes to eliminate several items from the benchmark survey. Many of the items were eliminated from the annual survey beginning in 2008, while others are being proposed for elimination because they are no longer used, because the information is collected on other surveys conducted by BEA, or because the quality of the data collected has been poor, the agency said. The items proposed to be eliminated include: the breakdown of employment and employee compensation by occupational classification; the breakdown of total employee compensation into wages and salaries and employee benefit plans; the composition of external finances; manufacturing employment by state; property, plant, and equipment by state; commercial property by state; the number of employees covered by collective bargaining agreements; and the location of the primary U.S. headquarters of the U.S. affiliate. The agency proposes to add questions to the benchmark survey concerning accounting, banking activities, equity in foreign parent companies, and intercompany debt.

The proposed changes to the survey are expected to result in a reduction in the total reporting burden for approximately 19,950 U.S. affiliates to 194,150 hours, from 209,650 hours for the 2007 benchmark survey. 09-22-2011. Bureau of National Affairs.

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