New center provides researchers access to nonpublic federal data

Valuable sociological and economic data collected by the federal government but not available to the general public will soon be available to select researchers from Texas and the surrounding region with the opening this fall of the Texas Census Research Data Center at Texas A&M University.

One of 12 such data hubs in the United States, the TXCRDC will provide researchers working on pre-approved projects with access to this useful federal database of facts and figures that was previously unavailable in Texas. The closest data center is currently located Atlanta, Georgia, nearly 900 miles from the Texas A&M campus.

A National Science Foundation grant provides initial funding for the center, to be located in the Donald L. Houston Building, 200 Discovery Drive on the west side of the Texas A&M campus.

The funds were awarded in response to a multidisciplinary proposal penned by Texas A&M faculty from the departments of sociology, statistics and the College of Architecture’s Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center, with support from a consortium including the Texas A&M System, Baylor University, the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Texas at San Antonio.

“The data center will have a broad impact by enhancing research capabilities and the quality of projects that can be undertaken by leading researchers at major research universities and advanced research institutions in Texas and the surrounding region,” said Walter Gillis Peacock, HRRC director. “It will give our research community and associated graduate programs access to microdata related to the entire U.S. population, including individuals and businesses.”

The microdata includes information at the individual, household or business establishment level collected by agencies including the U.S. Census Bureau, the Internal Revenue Service, the National Center for Health Statistics, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, as well as other federal datasets relevant to employment, income, wealth, taxes, health, disability and retirement.

Because of disclosure laws associated with the information, before researchers can access the center’s data-rich resources, their projects must be reviewed and approved by the census bureau’s Center for Economic Research. The data is provided exclusively from CRDC computer hardware and software and can only be accessed by researchers working at the center. Remote access to the data is not allowed. Additionally, research products, such as summary tabulations and tables of analysis results, must be reviewed by the CES before they can be taken outside of the center’s secure environment.

“We are amazingly fortunate to have a center like this at Texas A&M University," said Peacock. "Access to this facility will enable faculty and students in our college's planning and urban and regional science programs, for example, to undertake research on campus that faculty and students in most other universities around the country can only dream about.”

Hazard Reduction and Recovery Center faculty have already outlined three research projects to utilize the TXCRDC data with the following benefits:  

  • Better estimates of potential economic impacts associated with coastal storm hazards;
  • Precise spatial analysis of social vulnerability patterns for Texas coastal communities, and
  • Mitigation of adverse impacts of flooding and development of more resilient communities across the U.S. by examining relationships between flood loss, socio-demographic characteristics and proximity factors at the microspatial scale.

These were among 24 other research projects on diverse topics — health, labor markets, business, poverty, diversity, families and energy — outlined by Texas A&M faculty in the initial NSF proposal for the data center.

More information about the center is available from its website, or its director, Mark Fossett, or 979.845.5618.

posted November 23, 2011