On-site Visiting Researcher Program: Access to Confidential Data Files at the Bureau of Labor Statistics

About the Program

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) On-site Visiting Researcher program allows eligible researchers the opportunity to gain access to confidential microdata for select statistical research projects. Interested researchers may submit a project proposal for review by the BLS Microdata Access Review Board (MARB). If approved, researchers are granted one to two years to conduct work with microdata at the BLS national office at no cost to the individual researcher or the researcher institution or organization. The MARB reviews and approves project proposals quarterly.

The information and guidelines provided on this page are for onsite research only; information for prospective off-site data applicants is not included. All approved research must take place at the BLS national office in Washington, D.C. Researchers are encouraged to apply for access as early as possible and to discuss projects with the appropriate BLS contacts prior to submitting an application. Please contact Beth McLean if you have questions about the application process.

Available Data

The BLS strives to make available to the public the maximum amount of information possible without compromising the confidentiality pledged to survey respondents. The BLS is legally bound to protect from disclosure individually identifiable data collected for exclusively statistical purposes under a pledge of confidentiality. Please see the Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act for more information. Depending on the data involved, other laws, such as the Privacy Act, the Trade Secrets Act, and the Workforce Investment Act, also may apply.

Due to such confidentiality constraints, publicly available data sometimes are insufficient to meet researcher needs. The BLS has opportunities available on a limited basis for researchers to access confidential data for purposes of conducting valid statistical analyses (see item 1, Special Data Considerations and Important Information). Eligible researchers may apply for access to confidential data from the following surveys and administrative databases.

Data Available For On-site Research

Data on employment and unemployment:

Data on prices and living conditions:

Data on compensation and working conditions:

Special Data Considerations and Important Information

  1. The BLS may only accept as many research projects as limited resources (space, computer facilities, staff time, etc.) can accommodate. The BLS may postpone access to the confidential data files from prices and living conditions programs (CE, CPI, and PPI) and the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) program due to the high demand for these microdata. Researchers are encouraged to still apply. As current projects are completed, researchers will be admitted in the order in which their projects were approved.
  2. Please note that the application procedures outlined on this webpage are for on-site data access only. Different application procedures apply to off-site access for the following datasets:

    National Longitudinal Surveys Geocode Data
    Offsite CFOI Micro Fatality Research File

  3. Access to confidential NLSY Original Cohorts geographic data for statistical research involves a different application process than what is outlined on this web page. For further information on how to obtain access to the NLS Original Cohorts geographic data, please see Process to Request Access to the Original Cohorts Geocode Data.
  4. a.) Access to confidential microdata from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW) program is considered only for research projects that do not involve tabular output. b.) QCEW researchers must elect a course of action at the beginning of their project in accordance with the QCEW State Data Access Policy for Visiting Researchers. c.) Please be aware that the QCEW contains establishment data from employers. Researchers that need data on firms and/or want to link BLS microdata with external datasets that contain firm information should consult the Monthly Labor Review article on Linking firms with establishments in BLS microdata, which explains the relationships among EINs, UI account numbers, and establishments in the QCEW and discusses the difficulties involved in matching establishments to parent firms.
  5. To gain access to confidential Consumer Expenditure Survey (CE) data, accepted researchers must complete a clearance process through the U.S. Census Bureau to receive Special Sworn Status (SSS). Researchers will receive instructions for the process if their project is approved. The BLS must receive confirmation from the U.S. Census Bureau that a researcher’s SSS has been approved before the researcher is permitted to access the microdata. The U.S. Census Bureau clearance takes approximately four weeks from when it is initiated.

Who Can Apply?

Researchers may be eligible to access confidential BLS data files for statistical research if they meet certain qualifications. To qualify, you must satisfy both of the following requirements:

  1. Either be a citizen of the United States or a non-U.S. citizen. All non-U.S. citizens must have a valid visa and U.S. Social Security number in order to come on-site to the BLS national office. If you have questions about your eligibility, please contact Beth McLean.
  2. Either be enrolled as a student at least half time in an eligible educational institution or be employed by one of the following organizations:
    • An institution of higher education
    • An eligible nonprofit organization (IRS 501c(1) or 501c(3) organizations)
    • A State, local, or Indian tribal government
    • An association of State or local public officials
    • An organization representing member State or local governments
    • A Federally funded research and development center

Confidential BLS data are available for research that is exclusively statistical, with appropriate controls to protect the data from unauthorized disclosure. Researchers granted access will be responsible for adhering to the confidentiality policies of the BLS.

Once an application is approved, the researcher and his or her employer or educational institution must enter into a written legal agreement with the BLS. The terms and conditions of such agreements are non-negotiable. Contact Beth McLean to obtain a sample agreement.

Researchers coming to the BLS to perform statistical research will not be compensated by the BLS for their work or any associated expenses, such as traveling or living expenses.

Researchers will be subject to a security background check, known as the National Agency Check with Inquiries (NACI).

Research Application Guidelines

For an application to be considered, the proposed research project must meet the following criteria:

  • Be exclusively statistical in nature.
  • Have technical merit.
  • Be of significant interest to the BLS.
  • Further the mission of the BLS.

Applicants are encouraged to contact the BLS to determine the availability of data and the feasibility of their project prior to submitting their applications.

The following sections outline the requirements for the two possible types of research applications: Non-Federal and Federal. To be considered a Federal application, the application must come from: a) a Federal statistical agency, b) a statistical unit within an otherwise non-statistical Federal agency as determined by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), or c) a non-statistical, non-regulatory, and research-oriented unit of a non-statistical Federal agency.

Non-Federal Research Applications

Required Materials

Non-Federal research applications must contain the following materials:

  1. Research Proposal. The research proposal should be between 5 and 10 pages in length and include the following information:
    • The hypothesis that will be tested.
    • The data set and variables that will be used in the analysis.
    • The empirical methods that will be used.
    • An abstract summarizing the hypothesis to be tested, the data set involved, relevant variables, the empirical methods to be used, and the data outputs that will result from the project. (The abstract should be no longer than 300 words.)
    • The specific data outputs that will result from the project, including a description of whether the research results will be presented as descriptive statistics or frequencies, or via multivariate analysis such as regression coefficients.
    • A literature review including brief discussion of how the proposed research contributes to the existing body of research.
    • An explanation of why the research requires use of non-public data.
    • An explanation of why the research is of interest to the BLS and how it furthers the agency’s mission.
  2. Non-Federal Visiting Researcher Questionnaire.
  3. CV/Resume. An up-to-date CV should be included for each applicant.

Applications are accepted and reviewed on an ongoing basis. It typically takes three to six months after the application is submitted to the BLS to receive approval for research proposals.

Once a proposal is approved, a legally-binding data-sharing agreement will be processed between the BLS and the researcher’s institution or organization in order to grant the researcher access to confidential BLS data. It can take an additional three months to process and fully execute the legal agreement authorizing data access between the BLS and the recipient institution or organization. Researchers should factor these estimates into their timetable for beginning research.

All applications should be submitted electronically (in DOC or PDF files). Please do not email "zip" files, as these will be automatically rejected by the BLS email screening mechanism. Applications should be sent to Beth McLean.

Federal Research Applications

Required Materials

Federal research applications must contain the following materials:

  1. Research Proposal. The research proposal should be between 5 and 10 pages in length and include the following information:
    • The hypothesis that will be tested.
    • The data set and variables that will be used in the analysis.
    • The empirical methods that will be used.
    • An abstract summarizing the hypothesis to be tested, the data set involved, relevant variables, the empirical methods to be used, and the data outputs that will result from the project. (The abstract should be no longer than 300 words.)
    • The specific data outputs that will result from the project, including a description of whether the research results will be presented as descriptive statistics or frequencies, or via multivariate analysis such as regression coefficients.
    • A literature review including brief discussion of how the proposed research contributes to the existing body of research.
    • An explanation of why the research requires use of non-public data.
    • An explanation of why the research is of interest to the BLS and how it furthers the agency’s mission.
  2. Federal Visiting Researcher Questionnaire.
  3. CV/Resume. An up-to-date CV should be included for each applicant.

Timeframe

Applications for Federal projects are accepted and reviewed on an ongoing basis. They are not subject to the four annual application deadlines for non-Federal proposals.

All applications should be submitted electronically (in Word or PDF files). Please do not email "zip" files, as these will be automatically rejected by the BLS email screening mechanism. Applications should be sent to Beth McLean.

Resource and Facility Information

BLS Project Coordinators

Accepted researchers will be assigned a BLS Project Coordinator, a member of the BLS staff in the program office of the confidential data being accessed. The BLS Project Coordinator will assist the researcher with the initial computer set up and data access and will be available to answer technical questions about the data files for the duration of the project. After the first visit, the BLS Project Coordinator is the researcher’s primary contact for scheduling visits to the BLS for data access. At the end of the project before the researcher’s data outputs are made publicly available, the BLS Project Coordinator will review the outputs to ensure that the confidentiality of respondent identifiable information is maintained. No research or data quality assistance is provided.

Researcher Workspace

There are two designated work areas for visiting researchers at the BLS national office. Researchers conduct work with confidential data at a workstation reserved in advance by the BLS Project Coordinator. In order to protect the confidentiality of BLS data as required by Federal law, the researcher’s work environment is subject to the following conditions:

  • The BLS has standard Windows office computers designated for use by visiting researchers to conduct work with confidential BLS data.
  • Researcher computers do not provide access to the Internet.
  • The capability to use portable media storage devices (i.e., thumb drives or external hard drives) on researcher PCs is disabled.
  • Visiting researcher PCs are connected to an internal server where all confidential data files are stored.
  • Each researcher is given a Windows account and a server account.
  • Visiting researchers may bring their own laptops to conduct outside work but are not permitted to store confidential data files on their personal laptops or other computer equipment.

Software

Versions of SAS and Stata software are available on the research server. In addition, SPSS software is available for use on some computers. All visiting researcher computers have Microsoft Office programs.

Outside Data and Program Files

Per BLS approval, researchers may bring their own statistical software or data files for the BLS Project Coordinator to load onto the researcher’s account. On a case-by-case basis, a researcher may be permitted to load proprietary data onto the server, provided that MARB permission has been obtained and licensing agreements are observed.

Data Output Review

Although researchers are allowed to bring microdata to the BLS national office for merging to confidential BLS microdata, any resulting merged microdata sets (with or without identifiers) are considered confidential and may not be removed from the BLS national office. When the researcher has completed on-site work, the BLS Project Coordinator will conduct a non-disclosure (or confidentiality) review of all project outputs to ensure that data confidentiality is protected.

Contacting BLS for More Information

The following individuals may be contacted to obtain more information about the available data in their respective subject areas.

  • For data on employment and unemployment:
    Mark Loewenstein, Senior Research Economist
    Employment Research and Program Development Staff
    Room 4945
    Bureau of Labor Statistics
    2 Massachusetts Avenue NE
    Washington, DC 20212
    (202) 691-7385
    loewenstein.mark@bls.gov

  • For data on prices and living conditions:
    Tim Erickson, Senior Research Economist
    Division of Price and Index Number Research
    Room 3105
    Bureau of Labor Statistics
    2 Massachusetts Avenue NE
    Washington, DC 20212
    (202) 691-5145
    erickson.timothy@bls.gov

  • For data on compensation and working conditions:
    Kristen Monaco, Senior Research Economist
    Compensation Research and Program Development Group
    Room 4120
    US Bureau of Labor Statistics
    2 Massachusetts Avenue NE
    Washington, DC 20212
    (202) 691-7527
    monaco.kristen@bls.gov

For more information about the On-site Visiting Researcher Program process and legal requirements, please contact:

Beth McLean, On-site Data-Sharing Administrator
Division of Management Systems
Room 4080
Bureau of Labor Statistics
2 Massachusetts Avenue NE
Washington, DC 20212
(202) 691-5110
mclean.beth@bls.gov

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. How do I know if the data I want for my project is available at BLS?
  2. When should I apply?
  3. How long does it take for my proposal to be reviewed?
  4. How long may I access the data?
  5. Do I have to be a U.S. citizen to apply?
  6. Do I need to include any additional information in my application if I am a student?
  7. Who can I designate as my institution’s signing official for the legal agreement?
  8. Can I see a copy of the legal agreement my institution will need to sign?
  9. What do I need to do once my project is approved?
  10. What can I do to have a strong proposal?
  11. Can I assign a research assistant to travel to the BLS and work on the project in my place?

1. How do I know if the data I want for my project is available at BLS?

You are encouraged to contact the subject area experts listed above to determine the availability of data and the feasibility of your project prior to submitting your proposal. You can contact the Research Economist for the office that produces the data you are interested in using. This individual will be knowledgeable on the data set and happy to discuss the proposal with you.

2. When should I apply?

You should try to apply at least six months in advance of when you when you would like to access data. If you apply early, the BLS can hold the agreement for a few months until you are ready to start.

3. How long does it take for my proposal to be reviewed?

It takes about three months after the application deadline to receive notification of whether your research proposal is approved. It may take additional time if the BLS needs clarification on a proposal. If a proposal is approved, it can take an additional three months to process and fully execute the legal agreement authorizing data access between the BLS and the recipient organization.

4. How long may I access the data?

Initially, access to data for all projects is one year for students and two years for all other applicants. At the end of this time period, a researcher may submit a written proposal for an extension to continue to access the data. If resources are available, access may be granted for an additional time not to exceed another two years. If you anticipate needing access to BLS confidential data for more than four years, please contact Beth McLean to discuss your project before you apply.

5. Do I have to be a U.S. citizen to apply?

No. Non-U.S. citizens are eligible if they are employed by a non-profit U.S. institution or a student at a U.S. college or university. All non-U.S. citizens must have a valid visa and a U.S. Social Security number in order to pass the required National Agency Check with Inquiries (NACI) background investigation and be issued an identification badge. If you have questions about your eligibility, please contact Beth McLean.

6. Do I need to include any additional information in my application if I am a student?

Yes, you will need to include the following information:

  • Your expected graduation date.
  • The name and contact information of an employee at your university to serve as the main point-of-contact between the BLS and your university. The BLS refers to this contact as a project coordinator. Many Ph.D. candidates use their dissertation advisor for their project coordinator. The project coordinator does not need to come to the BLS National Office.

7. Who can I designate as my institution’s signing official for the legal agreement?

The signing official is an employee of the institution, who has the authority to enter the institution into a legally binding agreement. For example, you may designate a director or associate director from a contracts office, sponsored research/projects office, or grants office as your signing official.

8. Can I see a copy of the legal agreement my institution will need to sign?

Yes, you may obtain a sample agreement by contacting Beth McLean.

9. What do I need to do once my project is approved?

If the BLS approves your project, you will need to complete the following three steps before you may come to the BLS National Office.

1. Read the Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act to understand the nature of the BLS confidential data as well as to understand your legal obligation to protect the confidential data.
2. Sign a BLS Agent Agreement.
3. Take the online BLS Confidentiality Training.

Once you complete the three steps and your institution signs and returns the legal agreement, you may come to the BLS National Office and begin accessing the data.

10. What can I do to have a strong proposal?

You are highly encouraged to contact the BLS to determine the availability of BLS data and the feasibility of your project prior to submitting proposals. You can speak to a Senior Research Economist from the office that produces the data you would like to access.

11. Can I assign a research assistant to travel to the BLS and work on the project in my place?

Yes, you may add another researcher to your legal agreement. When you submit your application or when your project is approved by the BLS, provide the names, contact information, and CVs of all project participants. The additional researcher may be affiliated with a different institution, provided that institution is willing to sign a legal agreement with the BLS.

Last Modified Date: July 16, 2015