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BLS History


Janet Norwood

May 1979–December 1991

Janet NorwoodAppointed by: Jimmy Carter
Reappointed by: Ronald Reagan
Also served under: George H. W. Bush

After receiving her B.A. from Douglass College of Rutgers University and her Ph.D. from the Fletcher School at Tufts University, Janet Norwood taught at Wellesley College and conducted research in international economics at nearby Tufts. She began working at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 1963, and in the next 9 years she spent most of her time in the price office, where she renewed and redeveloped the international price program and managed the consumer price program. She rose rapidly in the ranks as she was named Associate Deputy Commissioner for Data Analysis in 1972, Deputy Commissioner for Data Analysis in 1973, and Deputy Commissioner in 1975. Prior to becoming the Commissioner, Norwood received numerous awards, including the Secretary's Award for Distinguished Achievement (1972), the Secretary's Special Commendation (1977), and the Philip Arnow Award (1979).

Toward the end of Julius Shiskin's tenure as Bureau of Labor Statistics Commissioner, he became very ill and was unable to perform his duties, so Secretary of Labor Ray Marshall appointed Janet Norwood to be the Acting Commissioner. Shiskin died in October 1978, and in March 1979, President Jimmy Carter nominated Norwood to be the new Commissioner; she was confirmed in May of that year.

Perhaps the first major accomplishment of the Bureau during Norwood's tenure was the launching of the Continuing Consumer Expenditure Survey, i.e., it was now conducted annually. Although this had been a goal of the Bureau for 25 years, prior to this time the survey had been done only when revisions of the CPI were done, due to a shortage of funds.

Inflation was a severe problem for the country in the late 1970s and motivated the establishment of a House Budget Committee Task Force on Inflation. Debate arose over whether the CPI was overstating the rate of inflation and whether programs indexed to the CPI were receiving too much money. Later in the decade, the Bureau began research on alternative approaches to measurement of homeownership costs in the CPI, a component with substantial weight in the index. After considerable discussion with user groups, the Bureau published five experimental measures of homeownership, including a "rental equivalence" measure. This measure was implemented in the CPI-U in 1983 and in the CPI-W in 1985.

In 1979, the National Commission on Employment and Unemployment Statistics issued a report that contained approximately 90 recommendations pertaining to the Bureau's employment and unemployment statistics programs. The Bureau put many of them into effect while Norwood was Commissioner. In addition, in January 1982, the Bureau issued "Linking Employment Problems to Economic Status," the first of its annual reports on the subject.

In 1983, the Bureau published its first multifactor productivity indexes for major sectors of the private economy, covering the period 1948-81. These estimates measured the annual change in output per unit of combined labor and capital input. Previously, the BLS productivity measurement program had focused on only output per hour of all employees.

When the Employment and Training Administration decided to quit conducting the National Longitudinal Survey, Norwood saved the program by arranging for BLS to take it over. This rich body of data was retained, and surveys continued to keep the information current.

By making regular visits to State agencies and having conversations with Governors about the importance of the statistical work done by these agencies, Commissioner Norwood increased the attention given to the Federal-State cooperative programs. She arranged to have funds for the ES-202 program, now the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (QCEW), transferred to BLS from the Employment and Training Administration and increased the cooperative relationship with the States.

During her time as BLS Commissioner, Norwood consistently strived to promote the professionalism of its employees. She elevated the role of statisticians in BLS to improve the statistical quality of Bureau indicators and increased their participation in professional associations. During her tenure, Norwood served as president of the American Statistical Association (ASA), vice president of the International Statistical Institute (ISI), and a board member of the American Economic Association (AEA). She also pushed for closer contact between BLS staff and the University community.

Commissioner Norwood established a cognitive laboratory at BLS and developed a memorandum of agreement for cooperation among the laboratories at BLS, the Census Bureau, and the National Center for Health Statistics. This laboratory is now part of the Office of Survey Methods Research, which has made very significant contributions to BLS.

Certainly, this is an impressive list of achievements, but probably the most important accomplishment Commissioner Norwood made was the assertion of the independence of BLS both from political interference and from the rest of the Labor Department on all scientific matters, personnel decisions, and scientific content of all BLS releases. In emphasizing this assertion in her administration, Norwood very closely reflected the attitude and work of Carroll Wright, the first Commissioner at BLS.

Back to BLS Commissioners' History.


Last Modified Date: October 21, 2015