Improved data is needed on the millions of US workers in “nonstandard and contract work arrangements,” according to a report by the US Government Accountability Office. Improvements could help policymakers and others better understand this growing labor market, it stated.

The report recommends the US Department of Labor and the Office of Management and Budget work to increase collaboration among federal agencies to improve data about these workers. One possibility is establishing a working group to improve data.

Any time the government proposes additional data or information, it usually means more work for the CW Program manager, according to Dawn McCartney, VP of SIA’s Contingent Workforce Strategies Council.

“It is not that there is necessarily a concern for what the data will show, but instead, it is understanding exactly what data is required (and often, this is not clear) and then it is the gathering, verifying/vetting that is time-consuming and extremely burdensome on programs and their providers,” McCartney says.

The GAO defines nonstandard and contract work arrangements as work that is not permanent, year round and full time with predictable hours. Its definition of contract worker arrangements include independent contractors, “electronically mediated workers” who find short-term jobs through websites or apps, and “contract firms” that employ or contract with workers.

Estimates of the size of this workforce range from less than 5% to more than 30% of the total workforce, depending on the type of arrangement measured, how it is defined and the methodology used, the GAO reported. Data is also limited on workers’ outcomes such as workplace safety, wages and access to benefits. However, the GAO noted available data, so far, indicated these workers generally have fewer benefits and workplace protections than permanent, full-time employees.

“Data collection on nonstandard work arrangements is fragmented across at least seven federal agencies, which measure different populations and use varied terms and methodologies to meet specific purposes,” the GAO wrote. The result is limitations to data quality and estimates that are not directly comparable.

For example, the GAO wrote that a “dog walker” could be classified 10 different ways depending on the agency. Examples include “contingent worker,” “contractor,” “nonemployee,” “independent contractor” and “sole proprietor.”

“Federal agencies have taken some steps to address data limitations relating to nonstandard and contract workers, such as commissioning a panel to review a key survey of these workers,” the GAO wrote. “However, interagency efforts do not include an ongoing collaborative mechanism, such as a committee or working group, and have not been effective in addressing data quality issues or fragmentation.”