U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Strategic Plan, FY 2020–2025
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) was established in 1884 to “collect information upon the subject of labor, its relation to capital, the hours of labor and earnings of laboring men and women, and the means of promoting their material, social, intellectual and moral prosperity.” The first BLS Commissioner, Carroll Wright, described the work of the agency as “conducting judicious investigations and the fearless publication of results.” That mission continues today.
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 adhere to a set of VALUES and PRINCIPLES that guide us in fulfilling our mission, including:
VISION STATEMENT: To be the gold-standard source of data and analyses on U.S. labor markets, working conditions, price changes, and productivity.
Who we are
BLS achieves its mission through the dedicated work of over 2,000 federal employees working at headquarters in the national capital region, in six regional offices, and in localities across the country. This staff is comprised of economists, statisticians, data scientists, information technology specialists, researchers, administrative specialists, and many other professionals. To assist us in achieving our mission, we maintain partnerships with state and territorial governments, coordinate with other federal statistical agencies, and contract with private vendors for data collection, information technology, and related services.
As an agency of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), BLS provides statistical guidance to the department and its agencies and works in partnership with those agencies to support their data needs. We support the DOL’s mission “To foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers, and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights.”
Though part of the Executive Branch, we conduct our work with independence to ensure that our data and analyses are objective and free of partisan influence. Such independence is the hallmark of the decentralized U.S. statistical system, which includes many separate agencies typically located within cabinet-level departments. These agencies follow a series of laws, regulations, and guidelines to ensure that statistical policy is consistent across the government, including:
Further, BLS is a member of the Interagency Council on Statistical Policy, which provides a forum for federal statistical agencies to share ideas, coordinate common activities, and improve operations.
We live in an age where data are ubiquitous, used for everything from where to position the defense on the baseball diamond to what advertisement will appear in social media feeds. BLS has been in the data business since our founding, but must also keep pace with this new world of data. To that end, BLS supports the Federal Data Strategy, which complements our efforts to be the innovative leader in measuring the U.S. economy.
What we do
As stated in our mission statement, BLS measures labor market activities, working conditions, price changes, and productivity in the U.S. economy. We do this through the operation of about 20 statistical programs. These programs operate in a variety of ways: some provide a monthly “first-look” at economic activity, some track activity over time, some take an in-depth look at specific aspects of the economy, and some offer detailed information available for further research. While each statistical program is unique, nearly all follow these general steps: planning, testing, sample selection, data collection, review, estimation, and dissemination. BLS has staff who are experts in each of these areas.
Most BLS data come from surveys, nearly all of which are voluntary. We extend our appreciation to the businesses and households who are called upon to provide information. Without their voluntary cooperation, we would be unable to provide high-quality data.
From its roots more than a century ago, BLS has focused on getting information to customers quickly, in an understandable way, and with sufficient technical detail to help users understand the data and their limitations. Today, those goals are achieved by announcing release dates in advance, providing information in many formats (including video, interactive graphics, and social media posts), and maintaining a robust catalog that details our methodology. To expand upon the output that BLS provides, we make much of our data available for further statistical analysis to qualified researchers under strict confidentiality agreements.
BLS data influence many aspects of Americans’ lives. For example, the Consumer Price Index is used to adjust Social Security payments and federal income tax brackets while the Employment Cost Index is one of several BLS sources used to adjust Medicare reimbursements. Several national data series, including employment, unemployment, and productivity, are used by policymakers to track the state of the economy and to drive changes in economic policy. State and local employment and unemployment data are inputs to formulas used to distribute job training funds and other resources. Trends on worker pay, health insurance, and retirement benefits have influenced legislation while workplace injury data have led to new safety regulations.
Some BLS programs have existed for over a century while others are but a few years old. We continue to seek improvements for all programs. In some cases, this may take the form of new data sources. The rapid expansion of electronic data provides both challenges and opportunities for BLS. We are addressing those challenges by researching and beginning to use alternative data sources, both to supplement and to replace our traditional collection methods. We are also looking at how the world is changing, and how our statistics must change to keep pace. This includes new forms of work to be tracked by employment programs, new goods and services to be tracked by our price and consumer spending programs, new forms of compensation to be measured, and much more.
To help in this work, BLS seeks input from many stakeholders. We sponsor formal advisory committees that provide regular input from representatives of labor, business, government, research, academic organizations, and other groups. One such committee provides advice on technical issues of common interest to the three U.S. statistical agencies that focus on economic data: BLS; the Census Bureau, and the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Beyond these formal groups, BLS is constantly seeking informal input from businesses, individuals, and other organizations.
Finally, BLS staff participate in a variety of organizations and activities that allow us to share our expertise, build relationships, and learn from colleagues. We provide seminars and training opportunities for our staff, colleagues in other agencies, and international visitors. We participate in:
Management of the Plan
This plan was developed by BLS senior staff in 2018 and 2019. Senior staff sought input from a variety of stakeholders and gleaned information from customer comments and satisfaction surveys. The plan includes one strategy that recognizes the major production activities that are the core work of the agency — we issue about 170 national data releases and over 800 regional data releases every year. Beyond that, the plan identifies four additional strategies that focus on what we do, how we do it, and the improvements we envision in the coming years.
The BLS executive staff is responsible for the oversight of this Strategic Plan. Progress on the strategies, goals, and objectives identified in the plan is monitored on a quarterly basis. This monitoring includes performance measures, such as the timeliness and accuracy of data releases, as well as progress toward completion of specific objectives. Formal project management reporting systems and periodic status meetings are used to track our internal and external performance commitments.
We are confident that the strategies and goals identified in this plan will put BLS on a path for continued success over the coming years. Nonetheless, a challenge in planning over several years is the uncertainty over future budgets and future priorities of the administration and Congress. We have built this plan on the basis of current information. As priorities change, we will make needed adjustments.
Our Strategies and Goals
Strategy 1 (Production): Produce objective statistics and analyses that are accurate and released on time
This Strategy recognizes that the core mission of BLS is to continue to produce the highest quality economic statistics and analyses. Strategy 1 is unique. Unlike the other strategies, this strategy encompasses ongoing production rather than improvement. Fulfilling this strategy requires not only the dedicated work of staff directly involved in each of these programs, but also the high-quality work of expert staff who perform important functions in the areas of administration, information technology, data collection and other field operations, statistical methods, publications, and data dissemination.
Strategy 2 (Valued and trusted data): Advance the measurement of BLS statistics to ensure they remain relevant in describing the dynamic U.S. economy
As economic trends and issues change, BLS is committed to updating the information we collect and study to remain relevant in describing the dynamic U.S. economy. BLS will engage in research to advance economic theory and statistical techniques related to measurement. Through these efforts and the innovations of others, BLS will improve the accuracy, timeliness, and relevance of existing measures and will expand coverage to enhance the usefulness of our data to our customers. By engaging with our stakeholders, BLS will gain a better understanding of customer needs to inform our priorities and will foster greater public trust through continued transparency and improved clarity of methods. This Strategy focuses on improvements.
Goal 2.1 Ensure relevance in an ever-changing economy and respond to evolving needs
Goal 2.2 Improve the accuracy and timeliness of BLS data through advances in economic theory and innovations in statistical techniques
Goal 2.3 Foster greater public trust through improved transparency and clarity of methods
Goal 2.4 Ensure BLS priorities align with stakeholder needs
Strategy 3 (Source data innovation): Reengineer data sources and collection methods to balance statistical quality with survey costs, including respondent burden, and to ensure transparency
The quality of BLS statistics is the direct result of the collected data, traditionally available from employers and households. Increasingly, alternative sources of data can both complement and substitute for our directly-collected data. Further, BLS will expand data collection methods to limit burden on and increase flexibility for data providers. This Strategy focuses on our source data.
Goal 3.1 Integrate alternative data into BLS programs
Goal 3.2 Improve data collection processes
Goal 3.3 Balance quality with the cost of data collection, including respondent burden
Strategy 4 (Organizational excellence): Provide visionary leadership that upholds and improves our standing as a dynamic, world-class statistical agency
The activities identified throughout this plan can only be accomplished through strong leadership and the dedicated work of BLS staff, our greatest asset. We strive to be good stewards of all our resources — staff, budget, and information technology — and foster future leaders who will continue these efforts. This Strategy focuses on our staff and our other resources.
Goal 4.1 Pursue dynamic BLS-wide governance and program performance management structures to guide decision-making, inform priorities, and achieve results
Goal 4.2 Recruit, train, and engage a talented and diverse workforce, encourage and reward innovation, and implement robust succession planning to meet our workforce needs
Goal 4.3 Optimize the use of financial resources
Goal 4.4 Advocate for staff by providing leadership in national and regional office space changes
Goal 4.5 Participate and provide leadership in government reform activities
Goal 4.6 Advance IT modernization through a mission-responsive and cost-effective IT Portfolio
Goal 4.7 Be a leader in the national and international statistical community
Strategy 5 (Seamless customer experience): Provide information in ways that are easy for a broad customer base to access, understand, and use
BLS information must be readily available for a broad range of data users to inform their decisions. As methods of sharing information expand in the digital age, BLS must continue to expand the ways that we provide data. This Strategy focuses on our customers.
Goal 5.1 Continue to improve customer experience on the BLS website
Goal 5.2 Create a new public database that expands available data and improves access
Goal 5.3 Evaluate and use new methods and platforms to deliver BLS content to our customers
Goal 5.4 Broaden communication and outreach efforts to promote the BLS brand to data users and survey respondents
Goal 5.5 Continue to support and expand secure microdata access by outside researchers, utilizing the latest technology and being consistent with current and future data sharing legislation
Last Modified Date: January 6, 2020