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Tag Archives: BLS history

On the Importance of Maintaining—and Sometimes Changing—Official Historical Records

I hope Major League Baseball’s recent decision to recognize the records of the Negro Leagues excited you as much as it did me. This move is long overdue. It’s about time that the home runs of Josh Gibson stand beside those of Babe Ruth.

This is a very big change for baseball, and some long-term fans may worry about all of the records that will change. Continuity sometimes has to give way to better statistics, however, when new information becomes available or old but overlooked information emerges. We know about changes like this at BLS. We have been around for 137 years, and we have some statistics that go back almost that far. Just as important, we don’t make changes lightly. Any update to our programs must be balanced against the need for historical comparability. Even so, we change when new or overlooked data must be recognized. Just see what we are doing today with contingent or gig economy workers; we’re finding ways to incorporate these workers that have been around for a long time into our official statistics.

But, back to baseball… Such concern for historical continuity is also a hallmark of baseball statistics, but even baseball has changed. Abner Doubleday might not recognize the designated hitter or a runner starting on second base in extra innings. The same is true for baseball statistics. Hits, runs, and the like are largely reported the same today as 100 years ago, but just look at the explosion of other statistics. Would Doubleday have the foggiest idea what WHIP means? (It measures the number of walks plus hits a pitcher allows per inning pitched.)

Beyond my keen interest in statistics, the updating of MLB data is important to me because I’m a big baseball fan. And that means all baseball. As both a numbers person and a baseball fan, it’s nice to see the statistics and records of these approximately 3,400 Major League-caliber ballplayers from the Negro Leagues counted within the official historical record.

Satchel Paige of the Kansas City Monarchs
Satchel Paige of the Kansas City Monarchs (photo from the collection of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

One of the game’s best players ever was Satchel Paige of the Kansas City Monarchs, who I had the pleasure of meeting at one of my first jobs as an archivist at the Black Archives of Mid-America. He was donating his baseball memorabilia to the museum at the time. Documenting cultural history at the Archives provided me with a first-hand experience learning about the African American community—its history, heritage, and incomparable stories. That work also heightened my love for baseball, and I count meeting Satchel Paige among my baseball highlights.

As we remember the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King and observe African American history, it’s important to step back, to reflect, and to pay tribute to the generations of African Americans who, like Satchel Paige, struggled with adversity and became catalysts for change.

And we continue to see change. By recognizing the records of the Negro Leagues, Major League Baseball provides an example of how to embrace and celebrate our diversity. I look forward to studying these expanded baseball records and learning more about the great players of the Negro Leagues.

Planning BLS Strategy for 2025 and Beyond

The start of the New Year seems like an appropriate time to share the new BLS Strategic Plan, which is designed to provide a roadmap for BLS over the next 5 years and beyond. Today, I want to tell you a little bit about how we developed this plan and then highlight some of its content.

We have a lot of resources to guide us in crafting the strategic plan. Consider:

  • As an agency of the U.S. Department of Labor, BLS provides statistical guidance and support to the department and its agencies. As noted in the Department of Labor’s Strategic Plan, BLS provides sound and impartial information about the economy for decision making.
  • As part of the decentralized U.S. statistical system, BLS works with its sister statistical agencies to share ideas, coordinate common activities, and improve operations.
  • We adhere to various laws, regulations, and policies to ensure that we provide accurate, objective, relevant, timely, and accessible information. Of particular note is the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018, which reaffirms the confidentiality of statistical information and encourages cooperation and efficiencies across the statistical system.

Using all these inputs, BLS senior staff spent the last year looking both inward and outward to refine our mission and vision, and to identify broad strategies and individual goals and objectives for the coming years. We considered our strengths and weaknesses, looked for opportunities and identified threats, and refined a laundry list of ideas into a concise yet comprehensive plan.

It starts with our mission statement:

The Bureau of Labor Statistics measures labor market activity, working conditions, price changes, and productivity in the U.S. economy to support public and private decision making.

We then present the values and principles that guide us in fulfilling that mission, including:

  • Independence from partisan interests
  • Consideration of the needs of a diverse set of customers
  • Confidentiality of our data providers
  • Innovation
  • Stewardship of our staff and our resources

The plan includes five strategies, the first of which is to produce objective statistics and analysis, the core work of our agency. While always striving to improve, we must never lose focus on the hundreds of new data releases we produce each year.

The remaining strategies focus on how we do our work, and how we improve upon that work. Strategy 2 is about making improvements in the information we provide and what techniques we use to produce that information. Strategy 3 is about our source data, with special focus not only on traditional survey respondents but also on alternative data sources. Strategy 4 focuses on managing the resources that allow us to do our work, including our people, our funding, and our infrastructure. Finally, Strategy 5 is about you—our customers who come to us for information. We strive to let you have a seamless customer experience today, and we look for ways to make that experience even better tomorrow.

One of our many challenges in developing this strategic plan was to ensure all BLS staff see themselves in the strategies, goals, and objectives. We also want all BLS stakeholders—data providers, data users, researchers, policymakers, and more—to see their unique perspectives addressed. We hope you will take a few minutes to review the BLS Strategic Plan and let us know if we’ve met this challenge. Feel free to leave a comment below.

Honoring Two Fearless BLS Visionaries

In January 2013, when I was sworn in as the 14th Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, I couldn’t help thinking about my predecessors in the position. Each of the previous 13 commissioners has played a unique and pivotal part in the development of this agency in pursuit of our mission to produce data vital to the economic health of our country. I often focused on the first commissioner, Carroll D. Wright, and the 10th, and first female commissioner, Janet L. Norwood. They both played extraordinary roles in making BLS today one of the preeminent statistical agencies in the world.

For this reason, yesterday was an extremely special day for BLS and for me. U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Tom Perez inducted Carroll Wright and Janet Norwood into the Labor Hall of Honor—on World Statistics Day, no less!

Commissioner Erica Groshen speaks at the Labor Hall of Honor with Labor Secretary Tom Perez, Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen, and Clark University president David Angel

Commissioner Erica Groshen speaks at the Labor Hall of Honor induction ceremony with Labor Secretary Tom Perez, Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen, and Clark University President David Angel.

 

The power of statistics and how they help people make informed decisions was certainly on display. The induction ceremony also showed the outsized influence these two extraordinary statisticians and public servants have had on BLS and the country.

For example, did you know that Carroll Wright was self-trained as a statistician, yet served as BLS Commissioner, Chief of the Massachusetts Bureau of Labor Statistics, Superintendent of the Decennial Census, and President of the American Statistical Association? Even so, I believe his greatest accomplishment was his profound commitment that statistics produced by BLS would be devoted to “the fearless publication of the facts without regard to the influence those facts may have upon any party’s position or any partisan’s views.” I love the word “fearless” here—an unusual but totally apt tribute to BLS data nerds!

Wright’s work to ensure the impartiality of government statistics is still the bedrock of our agency and his greatest legacy. Articulating this doctrine and fashioning the steps to achieve it (as obvious as they might seem today) were key innovations when he introduced them.

Labor Secretary Tom Perez speaks at the Labor Hall of Honor with Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen, Clark University president David Angel, and Commissioner Erica Groshen.

Labor Secretary Tom Perez speaks at the Labor Hall of Honor induction ceremony with Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen, Clark University President David Angel, and Commissioner Erica Groshen.

 

Almost 100 years later, Janet Norwood carried on in Wright’s tradition. After rising through the ranks as a career employee at BLS, she was nominated to be the 10th Commissioner. Janet served as BLS Commissioner for 13 years, spanning three Presidential administrations. When she retired in 1991 after 28 years of service at BLS, the New York Times said she had a “near-legendary reputation for nonpartisanship.”

She was also responsible for making BLS what it is today—a model workplace with professional, dedicated employees fearlessly (!!) producing quality statistics for U.S. policymakers, businesses, and families. BLS rose to new heights of prominence as a result, with Janet testifying before Congress an amazing 137 times during her 13 years as Commissioner!

Both Carroll Wright and Janet Norwood set new standards for BLS Commissioners, and it was truly a highlight of my time as Commissioner to see them inducted into the prestigious Labor Hall of Honor.