The Federal Statistical Research Data Centers (RDCs) are secure computing labs where qualified researchers can conduct approved statistical analysis on non-public data from the Census Bureau, the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), the Social Security Administration, and other government agencies. Researchers gain access to these research centers through an agreement with federal statistical agencies.
Tulane will officially join the consortium of the Atlanta RDC, the closest RDC to New Orleans, in January 2018. Researchers can begin contacting the ARDC about their research plans in December 2017. In becoming a consortium member, Tulane scholars will join researchers from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, Georgia State University, Georgia Tech, the University of Alabama, the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, Florida State University, The University of Georgia, and Emory University.
Tulane researchers will gain restricted access to economic data, demographic data, employer-employee jobs data, and health data that are not publicly available, with appropriate safeguards to protect data confidentiality. Consortium members’ research efforts provide the Census Bureau with important information that can be used to improve its data programs. As there are approximately 30 RDC labs across the US, Tulane researchers will easily be able to work with colleagues at other universities who are close to other RDCs. In order to access the RDC, consortium members must develop a proposal, submit it for review by the applicable agency (the Census, NCHS/AHRQ, and/or the Bureau of Labor Statistics), obtain Special Sworn Status (a foreign national must have worked in the US for at least three years), and pay a one-time fee if accessing NCHS/AHRQ data. These steps may take several months to complete.
The Researcher’s Handbook provides extensive written guidance for consortium members. It describes RDC operating rules and procedures, particularly those relating to reporting, documentation, and archiving of data and programs; maintaining security; and maintaining confidentiality. If additional conditions are imposed for particular datasets, these will be articulated explicitly in the formal project agreement. Once an applicant’s Special Sworn Status requirements are met, he or she can conduct research at the ARDC and will also have access to an onsite research assistant free of charge.
The individual researchers undertaking approved research in the ARDC will be responsible for ensuring that they are in compliance with the Internal Review Board (IRB) policies and requirements of their home institution. Many research projects conducted through the ARDC will be exempt from IRB approval.
Consortium members must identify confidential information in writing as such when disclosing confidential information to other members or non-members with approved research projects. If the parties discuss the information orally, the content must be identified as confidential in writing within ten (10) days of the disclosure. Parties receiving confidential information may not use it for any purpose other than the approved research that prompted the disclosure, and they may not disclose confidential information to a third party for a period of three (3) years from the date of receipt of such information.
Each consortium member has the right to publish or similarly publicly disclose information pertaining to research conducted solely by that consortium member’s employees, subject to the agreement’s confidentiality provisions. Census data are confidential and may only be used for statistical purposes and cannot be disclosed or published in any way that permits identification of the respondent. Researchers are subject to a fine of up to $250,000 or a prison term of up to five years (or both) for wrongful disclosure of confidential information. Improper disclosure of federal tax information is also subject to a maximum fine of $250,000 and/or a prison term of up to five years. In addition, individual taxpayers may file a lawsuit for an unauthorized disclosure with penalties up to $1,000 per disclosure or actual and punitive damages.
Some data collected by the Census Bureau are based on surveys sponsored by other Federal agencies. Permission to access these data often requires concurrence from the source agency(s). The Census Bureau does not guarantee that other agencies will permit access to their data.
ARDC researchers will abide by all Census Bureau confidentiality and disclosure analysis procedures, submit certain administrative reports, and provide copies of papers that emerge from their projects. Projects will provide evidence of human subjects review when such review is required by an Institutional Review Board.
The Census Bureau, as an agency of the United States Government, is self-insured for the negligent or wrongful acts of its employees acting within the scope of their employment. However, consortium members and all other non-Federal researchers, even though given Special Sworn Status, are not employees or agents of the United States and, therefore, are responsible for their own negligent or wrongful acts.
For further information, please consult the ARDC website, the website of the Federal Statistical Research Data Centers, or email Katie Weaver at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tulane’s primary contact at the ARDC will be ARDC Administrator Melissa Ruby Banzhaf, whom you can email at email@example.com.