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BLS History


Arthur Ross

October 1965–July 1968

Arthur RossAppointed by: Lyndon Johnson

Arthur Ross, the seventh BLS Commissioner, was born in Rochester, New York, on May 1, 1916. He graduated from Harvard University in 1937 and received his doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley in 1941. During World War II, he served in the War Manpower Commission. Ross published his first book, Trade Union Wage Policy, in 1948. In 1952 President Truman appointed him to the National Wage Stabilization Board. From 1954 to 1963, he was director of the Institute of Industrial Relations at UC Berkeley, and from 1956 to 1965, he was also chairman of the central adjustment board of the cannery industry of California. During the 20 years previous to becoming Commissioner, he also served on various other public and private boards and commissions and as an arbitrator in several industries.

Upon the retirement of Ewan Clague, Ross was nominated to be Commissioner by President Johnson, and he was confirmed in October 1965. At his swearing-in ceremony, Ross responded to long-standing criticism from several quarters that the Bureau was not interpreting statistics in meaningful terms. He stated that the Bureau "does not and should not formulate policy, but it can and should present impartial, competent analysis of the data in terms which are relevant to the policy issues." He also outlined six principal tasks for the Bureau, including maximum service to the Labor Department; increased analysis and interpretation; programs matched to new trends in the economy and labor force; improved technical quality, especially with enhanced computer capability; more effective communication of BLS activities; and development of new data and analysis on social issues and policy problems.

In 1966, Commissioner Ross presented to the Joint Economic Committee's Subcommittee on Economic Statistics a "master plan" for a comprehensive system of price indexes, which included improvements in the Consumer Price Index to fill gaps, update statistical techniques, and extend coverage to the entire population. In addition, the proposal provided for review - between major revisions - of such elements as outlet and reporter samples and item and specification samples, with appropriate reweighting. Furthermore, it called for experimentation with new approaches to shelter costs, substitution, new products, quality change, taxes, and annual consumer surveys. However, the brevity of the Ross administration prevented these ideas from being implemented until his successor, Geoffrey Moore, had taken office.

To meet the demand for more information, the Bureau's ongoing work on productivity measures was expanded. Productivity measures for the economy as a whole and for major sectors, first published on an annual basis in 1960, were introduced quarterly in 1968. Meanwhile, BLS continued its interest in the impact of automation and technological change. In 1966, the Bureau released an expanded and updated version of its study of 36 major industries. It followed with new studies on computers, railroads, and energy, while continuing to update the earlier work in a series of publications.

Historically, BLS had conducted frequent studies of occupational safety and health problems and had worked closely with safety and inspection groups. In 1966, it began publishing quarterly, as well as annual, statistics on the frequency and severity of work injuries in many industries.

In 1966, the management consulting firm Booz-Allen Hamilton recommended that BLS become "a more integral part of the Department (of Labor)." Also, characterizing BLS as too compartmentalized and inflexible to meet new demands, the consultants suggested stronger central leadership for the Bureau, with a Chief Economist responsible for the products and planning and a Chief Statistician responsible for standards and techniques. Ross accepted these recommendations and put them into effect, also separating the operations functions from the program and planning functions in the Bureau's regional offices. Implementing another Booz-Allen recommendation, the Bureau established a central Office of Publications to help the Commissioner and the program offices plan, prepare, and disseminate public information. Based on another Booz-Allen recommendation, the Bureau encouraged computer language training for its professionals to promote expanded use of computers for analysis and interpretation and worked with the Labor Department to plan a system based on a third-generation facility.

In 1961, President Kennedy established the President's Committee to Appraise Employment and Unemployment Statistics under the chairmanship of Robert A. Gordon of the University of California. After an extensive study, the Gordon Committee called upon the Bureau for major improvements in its statistics. Consequently, in January 1967, the Bureau put into effect some of their major recommendations for the Current Population Survey (CPS). It introduced sharper definitions; a minimum age of 16, rather than 14; and a larger sample.

The Bureau continued its efforts to develop job vacancy statistics, although methodological and conceptual problems and budget restraints plagued the program from the beginning. In 1967, the Bureau began collection of job vacancy data in Phoenix and Oklahoma City in connection with the regular labor turnover survey. At about the same time, however, funding for the turnover program was cut in half as part of general budget reductions.

The tremendous growth in demand for local data and the accompanying expansion of Federal-state cooperative programs enhanced the role of the Bureau's regional offices. In 1967, as part of the Department's effort to establish uniform regional organizations and boundaries, BLS changed the location of one of its regional offices from Cleveland to Kansas City. In 1968, it established new offices in Philadelphia and Dallas, for a total of eight regional offices.

In July 1968, Ross decided to return to academic life and accepted a post at the University of Michigan. Ben Burdetsky served as Acting Commissioner until a new Commissioner, Geoffrey Moore, could be confirmed.

Back to BLS Commissioners' History.


Last Modified Date: June 13, 2012