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June 2009, Vol. 132, No. 6
BLS at 125: using historic principles to track the 21st-century economy
William J. Wiatrowski
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) used its centennial in 1984 as “an opportunity to reflect on what we can learn from history and a time to think about emerging problems and their implications” for the future.1 At that time, it would have been hard to imagine the growth and change in the economy over just a quarter century—and the growth and change at the BLS designed to keep up with the changing economy. Remarkably, some things that could not have been imagined in 1984 are now commonplace at the BLS: the use of the Internet for data collection and dissemination, computers on every employee’s desk, staff telecommuting, distance training via video and computer, cognitive review to improve the clarity and accuracy of BLS questionnaires and publications, blogs and wikis, and more. But all of these changes are needed to track an economy that is increasingly global, lightning fast, and constantly being reinvented. Gone are the days when the BLS counted girdle manufacturers and stenographers. To keep up with the world of satellite communications and nanotechnology, the Agency had to reinvent itself.
The 100-year anniversary was marked with the publication of a volume that traced the growth of the BLS through the terms of 10 Commissioners.2 Although each Commissioner left his or her own mark, all supported and expanded upon a core set of principles to guide the organization and its work. An additional quarter century may not deserve another historic volume; rather, this article is intended as an update of BLS activities over the past 25 years. And while Commissioners have come and gone, the guiding principles remain, having been tested and strengthened. This look back is organized not by time or by program, but by those principles, which are still relevant today. A brief introduction will provide some context on how these principles manifest themselves in today’s BLS.
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1 Janet L. Norwood, “Centennial,” Monthly Labor Review, January 1984, pp. 1–2.
2 Joseph P. Goldberg and William T. Moye, The First Hundred Years of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bulletin 2235 (U.S. Department of Labor, September 1985).
Related BLS programs
BLS Programs and Surveys
Century of wage statistics: the BLS contribution, A.—Nov. 1984.
BLS and the economy: a centennial timetable.—Nov. 1984.
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