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What is a Research Data Center?
Federal Statistical Research Data Centers (FSRDC) are partnerships between federal agencies and leading research institutions. These facilities, managed by the Census Bureau, provide secure access to a range of restricted-use microdata.
Researchers at FSRDCs can access more specific information that available elsewhere and re-aggregate data to reveal effects previously unseen. The mission of FSRDCs requires that the data cannot be used for profit, enforcement, or other non-research uses. In many cases, it must also help make the Census better.
What is the GSRDC?
The Picard Center is applying to the National Science Foundation's solicitation, Restricted-Access Research Data Centers (NSF 15-586), which will establish the Gulf Statistical Research Data Center (GSRDC) at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. The GSRDC will bring a significant resource to UL Lafayette and will foster a culture of scholarship for the region’s universities, colleges, centers and agencies. Specifically, the GSRDC will focus on supporting multi-disciplinary, census-based research within the social, economic, psychological, cultural, and health-related aspects of southern and coastal communities by leveraging the power of the FSRDC. The project team seeks to establish a broad, multi-disciplinary coalition for whom quantitative, statistical research, and data analytics would provide significant benefits.
- Coalition partners including research centers, agencies, colleges, and universities that can see how valuable this research tool would be to their members or research agenda. Groups interested in joining our coalition creating a statement of interest and/or use.
- Individual researchers including demographers, economists, social scientist, health researchers with projects benefiting from access to these powerful data. We need a short description of a research project — not a full proposal. We only have room for about 200 words in the proposal application. Please emphasize scientific merit and the need for microdata. For examples of current research projects using RDCs, contact Steven Dick.
What can GSRDC do for you?
|Universities & Agencies||Researchers|
Three agencies directly provide data through FSRDCs:
U.S. Census Bureau
The Census Bureau's mission is to serve as the leading source of quality data about the nation's people and economy. We honor privacy, protect confidentiality, share our expertise globally, and conduct our work openly. We are guided in this mission by scientific objectivity, our strong and capable workforce, our devotion to research-based innovation, and our abiding commitment to our customers. Our researchers explore innovative ways to conduct surveys, increase respondent participation, reduce costs, and improve accuracy.
RDC research is critical to the Census Bureau. One way for the Census Bureau to check the quality of the data it collects, edits, and tabulates is to make its microdata records available in a controlled, secure environment to sophisticated users who, by employing the micro records in the course of rigorous analysis, will uncover the strengths and weaknesses of the microdata records. Each set of observations is the result of many decision rules covering definitions, classifications, coding procedures, processing rules, editing rules, disclosure rules, and so on. The validity and consequences of all these decision rules only become evident when the Census Bureau's micro databases are tested in the course of analysis. These analyses can also help address important policy questions without the need for additional, expensive and burdensome data collections.
U.S. Census Bureau Links:
National Center for Health Statistics
The mission of the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) is to provide statistical information that will guide actions and policies to improve the health of the American people. As the Nation's principal health statistics agency, NCHS leads the way with accurate, relevant, and timely data.
Collaborating with other public and private health partners, NCHS employs a variety of data collection mechanisms to obtain accurate information from multiple sources. This process provides a broad perspective to help us understand the population’s health, influences on its health and health outcomes. We collect data from birth and death records, medical records, and interview surveys and through direct physical examinations and laboratory testing.
NCHS conducts a myriad of data dissemination activities, including an extensive program of Research Data Centers throughout the country, to provide secure access to the fullest range of data at a greater level of detail than is releasable to the public.
National Center for Health Statistics Links:
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality's (AHRQ) mission is to produce evidence to make health care safer, higher quality, more accessible, equitable, and affordable, and to work with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and other partners to make sure that the evidence is understood and used.
AHRQ's priority areas of focus are:
- Improve health care quality by accelerating implementation of patient-centered outcomes research (PCOR).
- Make health care safer.
- Increase accessibility to health care.
- Improve health care affordability, efficiency, and cost transparency.
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality Links:
Other Federal Data Sources
In addition to the agencies directly providing data, many agencies who sponsor surveys also participate in the Research Data Center program by allowing surveys they co-sponsor to be made available. In addition to data collected from respondents, statistical agencies are relying more heavily on administrative data from other federal agencies to conduct their programs. These data are also being made more accessible within the Research Data Centers.
Bureau of Justice Statistics:
Collects, analyzes, publishes, and disseminates information on crime, criminal offenders, victims of crime, and the operation of justice system.
Bureau of Labor Statistics:
Measures labor market activity, working conditions, and price changes in the economy.
Bureau of Transportation Statistics:
Administers data collection, analysis, and reporting to ensure the most cost-effective use of transportation-monitoring resources.
Energy Information Administration:
Collects, analyzes, and disseminates independent and impartial energy information.
Environmental Protection Agency:
Protects human health and the environment.
National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics:
Provides statistical data on the U.S. science and engineering enterprise.
Social Security Administration:
Has a long history of collecting data to deliver Social Security services that meet the changing needs of the public.
USDA Economic Research Service:
Informs and enhances public and private decision making on economic and policy issues related to agriculture, food, the environment, and rural development.
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development:
Creates strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all.
- American Housing Survey
- HUD Public and Indian Housing Information Center Data
- HUD Single Family Computerized Homes Underwriting Management System Data
- HUD Tenant Rental Assistance Certification System Data
What is microdata?
Microdata are measures on the characteristics of units of a population, such as individuals, households, or establishments, collected by a census, survey, or other agency (unit of analysis). Usually, government data can only be released in aggregate to prevent privacy violations. Aggregation limits analysis because some subgroups cannot be represented or the method is incompatible with other datasets analysis.
The Census Bureau releases a public use microdata sample (PUMS), but only for the Decennial Census and the American Community Survey. However, there are key differences. For example, FSRDCs have all of the short form responses versus 5% in the PUMS. In addition, there is less reduction of the data at the ends of he distribution (e.g., actual income rather than +$250K), often called top/bottom coding.
Planning a Successful Full Proposal Application
Successful FSRDC proposals can become extremely valuable to you and the research community as a whole but they are a lot of work and planning is essential. Here are some hints at planning your project.
Start from an area of expertise. Approved projects must have scientific merit. Your proposal should not only be doable, it should have the potential to break ground or help society. Your own field is a great place to start.
Select agency source. FSRDC includes several data sources. Selecting the source of your data will determine the parameters of your application and the exact data available. Remember, you may only receive data requested in your application. Agency requirements may significantly impact your project.
Pretesting with Public Use Microdata. Agencies may aggregate or partially release microdata for public use (see article on page 3). Pretesting your ideas with public data can demonstrate the viability of your project and create your first publication.
Why microdata? The project must have a demonstrated need for access to microdata. Consider how access to data on specific groups.
Consider bigger. Published results cannot reveal private data. Some local projects may be interesting but may not provide the volume of aggregate data for publication. Consider similar events over a larger area to create more impact.
Don’t be afraid of a team. If you do not have all the skills necessary, find others to join you. The GSRDC may help match you with available partners.
Think long term. Project can last go back longitudinally and/or last years to fully complete. If you are going to do proposal, imagine a comprehensive project that will have lasting benefit.
Ask for help. The staff of the GSRDC will be here to help you see your research ideas grow to full projects. We will offer individual counseling, online help, webcast and live conferencing.
We are asking you to support the creation of the GSRDC. Once successful, you will want to make your own application for projects. We can help and this is how it is done.
The FSRDC administration will help researchers submit a proposal consistent with the rules of the agency supplying the data.
Generally, there is a 6-12 month review period. Accepted faculty, graduate students, and staff at consortium institutions will be allowed access to data without additional costs.
Data acquisition costs should be added to grant proposals and some data will require construction and/or review costs.
Researchers must also acquire appropriate security clearance. This includes a background check, training, and formal agreements to security and data privacy rules.
The actual data resides at the Census bureau and is brought into the FSRDC via a secure VPN to local thin clients.
The software also resides on Census Bureau Computers off site. The computing environment operating Red Hat Linux and standard statistical analysis software: SAS, SPSS, R, STATA, Gauss, and MatLab. In addition, limited on-site printing is available.
While the Bureau might add software to suit your research needs, the thin clients at the FSRDS cannot operate your software. You will not be allowed to bring in you own computers, cellphones, or storage devices.
Remember, these are very large datasets and some software packages may not operate well with the demands.
- Vice President for Research, Innovation, & Economic Development
- College of Education
- College of Liberal Arts
- College of Sciences
- College of Nursing & Allied Health Professions
- B.I. Moody III College of Business Administration
- University College
- Informatics Research Institute
- Office of Diversity
- Center for Advanced Computer Studies
- National Incident Management Systems and Advanced Technologies Institute
- Cecil J. Picard Center for Child Development & Lifelong learning
University of South Alabama
More to come…
For more information
Steven J. Dick, Ph.D.
Senior Research Scientist
University of Louisiana at Lafayette
Picard Center for Child Development & Lifelong Learning
200 East Devalcourt Street
Lafayette, LA 70506