FSRDC 2023 Annual Meeting and Research Conference

October 2, 2023

FSRDC 2023 Annual Meeting and Research Conference

From our ashen sky to Foggy Bottom, I traveled alongside the other directors, administrators, census employees, and members from our partnering agencies towards the National Mall in late September for the 2023 Federal Statistical Research Data Center (FSRDC) Business Meeting and Annual Conference. They were held on September 21st and 22nd at the Federal Reserve in Washington, DC. The hosting Executive Director, Norman Morin, warned all of us about the usual security measures and the increased flow of traffic cautioning that we should plan to arrive early. Just as you might see me bright and early checking on the Collaboratory at D-Lab, I arrived first that morning alongside the Director from the Central Plains FSRDC located in Lincoln, Nebraska. We talked about the differences in our RDC physical spaces, membership, and efforts to increase outreach. Although each of the thirty-three national locations functions independently, we are all struggling with similar issues. The two-day experience promised to address information sharing about the efforts that we are taking to leverage our connections to solve some of these problems and to allow for questions to be reframed and understood amongst our partners/collaborators/census/partners.

Berkeley Federal Statistical Research Data Center

The Berkeley Federal Statistical Research Data Center opened in 1998 and has maintained a high level of usage when compared to all of the other thirty-two research data centers across this country. We maintain a list of active campus users who are making use of the census and partnering organizations for research from Berkeley Law, Haas School of Business, Goldman School of Public Policy, Department of Economics, Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics, School of Public Health, the Gilbert Center, Department of City and Regional Planning, Department of Demography and D-Lab Our users include faculty, staff researchers, postdocs, and graduate students working as research assistants. The Berkeley FSRDC is hosted by D-Lab. There is no cost for UC Berkeley campus affiliates to use the Berkeley FSRDC. The cost of lab access is covered by the D-Lab. In specific cases, some partnering agencies may require additional data service fees.

We continue ongoing Consortium memberships with UC San Francisco and UC Davis so that their researchers can help sustain the lab through financial support and contribute to the development of important research projects. We are currently working closely with campus partners to develop an efficient contracting process so that we can also build relationships with researchers outside of the UC system to join us and support the Berkeley FSRDC.

Alongside our peers at the Central Plains research data center, the Berkeley FSRDC continues to focus on growing its user base as we move forward with a multi-year development plan to move the lab from its current location into an updated and larger space. This will allow us to welcome additional researchers to the physical space at one time and provide a much-needed update to a secure data space that has not been updated since its inception.

FSRDC Director Priorities and Collaboration Efforts

The FSRDC Program continues to focus on its expansion and outreach efforts to diversify and increase access to secure microdata for a diverse body of researchers. During this year’s Annual Meeting, we were able to learn more about how these efforts are happening through: 

  • conversations focused on opening an RDC in Puerto Rico,

  • an NSF Includes proposal,

  • further discussions about additional research team fees.

First, we were introduced to Census Economist, Katie Ganadek who discussed her work with Nick Orsini regarding efforts to open an FSRDC in Puerto Rico. They are working closely with another Census employee to develop relationships and discuss the possibilities of where to house and how to fund a new Research Data Center that could expand access directly. Directors brought additional questions about whether a priority research brief has been developed. During the breaks, I was able to connect with one of the folks who is doing this work and learn more about the early stages of the research development and offer support if their potential director is looking to meet with others.

Secondly, Director Mary Campbell from the Texas A&M RDC provided updates on a collaborative NSF Includes proposal that the RDC network is submitting together. This process has included semi-monthly meetings as she led the development of the content alongside supporting efforts from other RDC Directors such as Jaclyn Hall who has helped organize a list of Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Hispanic-Serving Institutions so that RDCs can synthesize their intended partnerships if the proposal is funded.  The plan includes direct outreach, leveraging training mechanisms from some RDCs who have resourced this work more in the past to train broadly and provide financial support and mentorship.

Third, the FSRDC Director from Georgetown, Amy O’Hara, provided context and updates to an important series of issues that she has been collaborating with FSRDC Program Director Nate Ramsey to sort out. As Directors, we work closely with research teams to provide guidance on the cost of each project. When data linkage becomes part of that planning, understanding and being able to share as much transparent information as we can with researchers is critical. The cost of data linkage through the Personal Identification Key (PIK) process has not been consistent. Amy’s efforts will bring important tensions and questions directly to the offices that manage this issue.

Wrapping Up

The Annual Federal Statistical Research Data Center Business Meeting and Conference allows for connection across stakeholders to provide a space for important dialog around key focus issues for the upcoming year. Beyond our conversations regarding the development of an FSRDC in Puerto Rico, the NSF Includes proposal, and the PIK process costs, we were also able to learn and hear from internal Census employees and partners about updates and future plans.

These topics included the multi-year development plan and testing of cloud computing, the timeline and effects of the Standard Application Portal (SAP), the opening of the FSRDC at Chappell Hill (member of the Triangle Research Data Centers) and our ongoing efforts to support secure remote access

To continue building our relationships, members from our partnering agencies also joined us to review their current practices for proposal and researcher approval. Also, Director Natalie Harrower from the Canadian Research Data Centre Network presented on their organization mission, and current priorities and chatted with us over dinner about mutual experiences in promoting research data centers.

Finally, on September 22, 2023, we welcomed researchers from across the country to share their current progress on research projects focused on topics such as pay gaps, trade fragmentation, and firm growth. The conference integrates what is referred to as external (non-Census employee) and internal Census projects. This provides an interesting opportunity to learn about the priorities and questions that are emerging across these networks.

We continue to look forward to the growth of projects and expansion of the user base at the Berkeley FSRDC. Look out for upcoming trainings on using census data and the FSRDC at D-Lab.