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Electronic Data Reporting

Chapter 1 - Introduction

Two Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) programs, the Current Employment Statistics (CES) and the Multiple Worksite Report (MWR), collect employment and payroll data from employers1 throughout the United States.

The CES is a monthly survey of 300,000 non-farm business establishments2 that estimates employment, hours, and earnings at the national, state, and metropolitan area levels. It provides one of the first indicators on the health of the economy.

The MWR is a quarterly survey of large employers used to collect statistical information to supplement statewide data provided by employers through State Unemployment Insurance (UI) Quarterly Contribution Reports (QCRs).

Both the CES and MWR programs publish statistics on our nation's employment and earnings. Collected monthly, the CES program uses its sample to provide current estimates of monthly nonfarm employment, average weekly hours, and average hourly and weekly earnings. CES data are very timely and are published on the first Friday of the month following the reference period. As such, they are one of the earliest indicators released regarding current economic conditions. Data are published for the nation, States, and most large metropolitan areas.

The MWR covers about 98 percent of all nonfarm employees and 99 percent of those in the private nonfarm sector. Collected quarterly, the MWR program is a comprehensive and accurate source of monthly employment and quarterly gross wage data, published by industry, at the national, State, and county levels.

One of the primary goals of BLS is to reduce the employers' reporting burden, while providing timely, accurate economic information to those who need it. To meet this goal, BLS has established an Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) Center in Chicago, Illinois.

1.1 Electronic Data Reporting

Traditionally, the collection of the CES and MWR data has been by mail. The EDI Center, however, can facilitate collection of these data by offering centralized electronic data reporting. This reduces the burden for employers since they can generate electronic files directly from their payroll system, eliminating the need for manual transcription, and can send files covering all their locations to one place, the EDI Center, rather than sending files separately to each State. Thus, employers can reduce their points of contact from as many as fifty individual State agencies, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, to just one, the EDI Center. While the initial setup of these files by your firm will require a certain amount of up-front work, the benefits of electronic data reporting will substantially reduce your long-term workload.

For any prospective EDI reporter, the EDI Center also experiences some initial setup work. When initially contacting the EDI Center, ask EDI Center staff if your firm meets the initial size thresholds to qualify for EDI reporting. These size thresholds focus on the prospective firm's total employment, number of physical locations, and the number of States where the employer has locations.

While we prefer electronic data reporting, we can accept data files on magnetic media such as cartridge, tape, diskette, or CD. Once the data have been received and processed, the EDI Center transmits these data to the State agencies.

Electronic data reporting also provides benefits to BLS and the States. First, since data are received in electronic form, key-entry is eliminated thus reducing collection costs. Second, electronic data reporting often leads to more accurate data since manual transcription, (which can potentially introduce data errors) has been eliminated. Finally, employers are usually able to provide electronic data more quickly, which allows for more timely information to be provided to users of economic data.

In short, electronic data reporting to the EDI Center provides employers with an efficient, low-cost method of submitting employment and payroll data while maintaining the high standards of quality and confidentiality expected from BLS.

1.2 Electronic Data Interchange (EDI)

In its most basic form, EDI is simply the transfer of information electronically from computer to computer. There are two major aspects of this transfer. The first is the method, and the second is the format. The information in this booklet will provide you with guidelines for creating and transmitting data in a "flat file format" to the EDI Center using the "direct" transmission method.

The method of file transfer is called "direct" EDI, and involves the use of modems, phone lines, and appropriate communications software. Using this method, the file transfer occurs directly between the firm and BLS computers. The firm dials a toll-free number, logs onto a bulletin board, and executes a file transfer. The EDI Center can accept most common high-speed communications protocols. In addition, the EDI Center can receive data 24 hours a day, offers toll-free file transmission, and Help Desk services. Firms may also transmit their data to BLS using standard File Transfer Protocol. To secure the data, BLS requests that the file be encrypted. See Chapter 6, Data Transmission Procedures, for additional details.

The format offered by the EDI Center uses a fixed record layout in a standard ASCII file, which is referred to as a "flat file format." This file can be created with most spreadsheet, database and word processing software packages. In the EDI industry, this type of format would be considered "proprietary" EDI, meaning simply that a format specific to one of the partners was adopted as the standard format.

1.3 Before you Begin

Contact the EDI Center before you begin programming and creating data files. This provides us with the opportunity to discuss situations that may be unique to your firm. When your firm is ready to begin reporting data, please notify the EDI Center in advance. Also, to ensure that the electronic or magnetic media reporting of data is accurate, one or two test transmissions are required prior to discontinuing your current method of reporting.

You may submit your data on various media. The EDI Center will assist with your creation of a test cartridge, tape, diskette, or CD. If you need any additional information, or have suggestions or comments, please contact the EDI Center Manager toll free at 1-800-861-3804 ext 230 or via the Internet at

1.4 Where to Start: MWR

BLS currently offers EDI for the two programs, mentioned above. It is both logical and cost-effective to begin by converting firms participating in the MWR to EDI first, and then convert firms participating in the CES program to EDI. In this way, we can insure the maximum level of consistency and coordination.

1.5 Professional Employee Organizations (PEOs) and Payroll Provider Firms (PPFs)

Separate record layouts have been specifically developed for employee leasing companies, currently known as professional employer organizations (PEOs) and for businesses that provide payroll operations, currently known as payroll provider firms (PPFs), for businesses that outsource their payroll operations. Although the record layouts are very similar to the general MWR layout described in Appendix B within this booklet, the differences necessitate that a PEO or PPF have their own unique file formats. The unique nature of the PEO and PPF reporting require additional data elements not identified on the general MWR file format. See Appendix E for the EDI-required PPF MWR file format.

1.6 Required Overlap Period

Ongoing data quality is of utmost importance to BLS. Therefore we require an overlap period which allows both programs to carefully match your previously reported data with your new EDI reported data. This will further allow us to insure the continuity of our data series.

For the MWR, we require a minimum of 1 quarter overlap period. For the CES, we require a minimum of 3 months overlap. If we have substantial data quality issues, we reserve the right to extend the overlap period.


1 Since tax reporting and the preparation of payrolls is often contracted out to service bureaus by employers, references in this booklet to employers (or firms) include service bureaus as well.

2 Use of the terms "establishments", "worksites", and "reporting units" are synonymous throughout this document.

Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Appendix A, B, C, D, E, F


Last Modified Date: September 27, 2005