Topic Archives: BLS Management

BLS Mathematical Statistician Receives American Statistical Association Founders Award

Our very own Director of the Mathematical Statistics Research Center, Dr. Wendy Martinez, recently received the American Statistical Association’s Founders Award at the 2017 Joint Statistical Meetings in Baltimore. This award honors those select few ASA members with “longstanding and distinguished service to the association and its membership.” To be eligible for the award, candidates must have served the organization over an extended period in a variety of volunteer leadership roles. The Founders Award is the only ASA award that is kept secret and announced only at the awards ceremony. Wendy said she was caught “completely by surprise” when her name was called at the awards ceremony. Previously, Wendy earned her status as an ASA Fellow for “making outstanding contributions to statistical science” in 2006. Incidentally, two BLS alumni, Nick Horton and John Eltinge, also received the 2017 Founders Award that evening.

Wendy Martinez receiving Founders Award from American Statistical Association President Barry Nussbaum.

Wendy Martinez receives Founders Award from American Statistical Association President Barry Nussbaum.

Wendy’s distinguished service to the ASA includes many years serving as a Section Chair, Committee Chair, and Program Chair. Wendy is especially proud of her role as the Program Chair to plan the Joint Statistical Meetings held in Washington, DC, in 2009. She also was a keynote speaker at the “Women in Statistics and Data Science” conference last year. In addition, Wendy founded the “Statistics Surveys” journal and serves as Coordinating Editor. The Journal publishes survey articles in theoretical, computational, and applied statistics.

Wendy joined BLS 6 years ago. At BLS, Wendy oversees the Mathematical Statistics Research Center. When asked what her favorite part about working at BLS is, Wendy said, “It’s the ability to be innovative. BLS has a culture of fostering innovation in its employees.”

Congratulations on an outstanding professional achievement, Wendy!

Innovating for the Future

Erica L. Groshen was the 14th Commissioner of Labor Statistics. She served from January 2013 to January 2017. This is her final post for Commissioner’s Corner.

Image of former BLS Commissioner Erica L. Groshen

It didn’t take long after I became Commissioner of Labor Statistics in January 2013 for me to appreciate the skill, dedication, and innovation of the staff that works here. Whether they’re doing sampling, data collection, estimation, or dissemination; whether they’re the IT professionals or the statisticians or the HR staff; whether they’re the newest employees who are so tech-savvy or the more senior employees who hold a wealth of institutional knowledge. To a person they are phenomenal. I am honored to have had the pleasure of leading them — and letting them lead me — during the past 4 years.

 

I have had many opportunities to observe and encourage innovation during my tenure at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, from listening tours to senior staff conferences to regional office visits to discussions with a wide variety of stakeholders. From these efforts, we have identified several activities that will help us develop and implement the next generation of labor statistics. These days, we call these efforts a variety of names, such as “modernization” and “reengineering.” But, in truth, they just continue the impressive progress that has been the hallmark of BLS for the past 133 years.

In my final Commissioner’s Corner post, I want to tell you a little about some of our current reengineering efforts.

One of the things we do best at BLS is data collection, largely because we are always looking for ways to improve. Recent efforts include identifying alternative data sources, expanding electronic collection, and “scraping” information directly from the Internet. These efforts can expand the information we provide, lessen the burden we place on employers and households that provide data, and maybe even save some money to provide taxpayers the best value for their data dollar.

These efforts are not new. One source of alternative data we’ve used for many years comes from state unemployment insurance filings, which identify nearly every employer in the country. We tabulate these data but also use them as the source of our sample of employers for certain surveys and as a benchmark of detailed employment by industry. We also use information from private sources and from administrative sources, like vital statistics. Our latest efforts involve examining techniques to combine data across multiple sources, including mixing survey and nonsurvey data.

We want to give employers the opportunity to leverage the electronic data they already keep so it’s easier to respond to our surveys. These efforts include allowing employers to provide electronic information in multiple formats; identifying a single source of electronic data from employers, reducing the number of locations and number of requests made to multiple sites of the same organization; and working with employers to allow BLS to access their data directly from the Internet. We rely on good corporate citizens to supply the information that we use to produce important economic data. Making data collection easier is a win-win.

The innovation doesn’t stop at collection. We are using electronic text analysis systems extensively to streamline some of our data-processing activities. Much of the information we collect is in the form of text, such as a description of an industry or occupation, details about a workplace injury, or summaries of employee benefit plans. Transforming text into a classification system for tabulation and publication used to be a manual task. BLS has begun to transform this task through the use of machine-learning techniques, where computers learn by reviewing greater and greater amounts of information, resulting in accurate classification. As we expand our skills in this area and find more uses for these techniques, the benefits include accurate and consistent data and greater opportunities for our staff to use their brainpower to focus on new, unique, and unusual situations.

We are also modernizing our outputs, producing more with the information we have. For example, we have begun several matching projects, combining data from two or more sources to produce new information. One example is new information on nonprofit organizations. By linking our employment data with nonprofit status obtained from the Internal Revenue Service, we now have employment data separately for the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. And we took that effort one step further and produced compensation information for these sectors as well. Look for more output from these matching efforts in the future.

Finally, we’ve made great strides in how we present our information, including expanded graphics and video. And we are not stopping there. Each year we are expanding the number of data releases that include a companion graphics package. We are developing prototypes of a new generation of data releases, with more graphics and links to data series. And we have more videos to come.

My 4 years as Commissioner of Labor Statistics have flown by. I’m excited to see so many innovations begin, thrive, and foster additional innovations. I have no doubt that the culture of innovation at BLS will continue. As my term comes to an end, I know now more than ever that the skill, dedication, and creativity of the BLS staff will lead this agency to even greater advances in the years to come.

BLS Microdata Now More Easily Accessible to Researchers across the Country

I am pleased to announce that BLS is now part of the Federal Statistical Research Data Center Network.

Researchers at universities, nonprofits, and government agencies can now go to 24 secure research data centers across the United States to analyze microdata from our National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth and our Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses. Before, researchers had to visit our headquarters in Washington, D.C., to use these data.Image of researchers examining data.

Making our underlying data more accessible for researchers from coast to coast is a huge step forward, and I hope it will lead to a surge in research using BLS data. I believe that having more researchers use BLS data not only will showcase new uses of the data but improve our products by encouraging researchers from BLS and other organizations to collaborate. It also supports transparency because external researchers can analyze inputs to our published statistics.

Another key benefit to having BLS data alongside datasets from the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Center for Health Statistics is that researchers can combine data from two or more agencies. Using multiple datasets allows researchers to match data to answer new questions with no more burden on our respondents. Put simply, more data = better research = better decisions that rely on research.

Researchers are enthusiastic about adding BLS data to the research data center network.

“We at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta are excited that more BLS microdata are available to researchers. Policy questions are usually complicated. Matched data from different sources can give researchers a much better understanding of economic relationships. That will help us provide more informed policy advice,” said John Robertson, senior policy adviser at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

Over the next year, we will add more BLS data to the research data centers based on user demand.

Researchers can also still visit us at our D.C. headquarters to access our full suite of microdata. To learn more and to apply, see our BLS Restricted Data Access page.

Celebrating Our Customers

This week, BLS celebrates National Customer Service Week. We work every day to ensure you have a positive experience when you connect with us. Whether answering questions from the public, speaking at events, designing our website and releases, or helping businesses and households throughout the data collection process, BLS staff always put the customer first. It’s just the way we do business here.

Providing direct access to our experts is a cornerstone of the BLS culture of making our data accessible to all. This accessibility helps ensure that data users get the information they need quickly and easily. Each BLS program and regional office posts telephone numbers and email addresses that take you directly to the experts. I encourage you to take advantage of this wonderful service. Every year BLS economists and information specialists help thousands of data users. These information seekers, ranging from students to Congressional staff, are trying to find data that will help them make informed decisions.

Besides answering information calls and emails, BLS experts serve customers by speaking at events around the country. Speakers are available to discuss many topics about the U.S. labor market and economy. If you want to have a BLS speaker attend your event, please check out the BLS Speakers’ Page.

Another important way BLS staff help the public is through the data collection process. Every day, our economists and economic assistants collect data from businesses and households. We use these data to produce statistics about the national and regional labor markets. We always ask ourselves and our customers, the respondents, how we can improve efficiency. Whether we collect data by phone, using the Internet or other electronic options, or through personal visits, BLS staff mix high-tech methods with the high touch of building personal relationships. This ensures we receive the highest quality, most accurate data possible, with the lowest burden on respondents.

I thank our customers and my staff here at BLS, who work together to ensure we deliver the best possible data for the public to make decisions that shape the future.

A History and Culture of Efficiency at BLS

We’re always looking for ways to improve our programs and surveys at BLS to provide what I call “gold standard” data. Good data help the American public make better decisions.

BLS has a strong history and culture of looking for ways to provide our data in the most timely, accurate, relevant, and cost-effective manner. I’m incredibly proud of what BLS has achieved through innovation and resourcefulness. Our focus on improving our programs and methods means we can produce better data and provide better service for you.

I am excited the President’s 2016 budget request contains several items to help us meet the needs of our data users. One innovative proposal is to improve the timeliness and detail of the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. The new funding would allow us to release each month’s data much sooner, when we publish The Employment Situation. Data users then would be able to analyze net changes in jobs each month alongside information about job openings, hires, and separations for the same month. Having more information more quickly can give policymakers, employers, and workers an earlier warning about downturns or signal an improving economy.

The President’s 2016 budget also proposes funding to measure poverty more accurately. Other agencies use these measures to improve conditions for the poor. BLS would improve the Consumer Expenditure Survey to get more information about school breakfasts and lunches and programs that help pay for home heating and other household expenses. The improved data will help the U.S. Census Bureau develop alternative poverty measures.

At BLS, we work hard every day to improve efficiency. I want to highlight a few notable efficiencies we have made over the past few years.

  • In 2012 we began closing 36 Consumer Price Index data collection offices, allowing those data collectors to work from their homes using smart phones and tablets.
  • This year, we began applying a design change to the Consumer Expenditure Survey that will reduce the number of respondent interviews from five to four; we will use the savings from that change to support a small-scale redesign of the survey.
  • We have reduced mailing costs by redesigning survey mailings and increasing the use of our Internet Data Collection Facility.

Of course, saving money by improving efficiency cannot fund all the work we do, but it can make a big difference.

In sum, we are constantly working to improve the way we do business. We strive to make our work as efficient, relevant, timely, and cost-effective as possible, to deliver “gold standard” data to our customers.