Meet Commissioner of Labor Statistics, Erica Groshen
Erica L. Groshen became the 14th Commissioner of Labor Statistics in January. She earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and mathematics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a PhD in economics from Harvard University.
What about this position appealed to you?
This job combines my three professional loves: labor economics, data, and public service. I’m deeply honored to serve as the head of such a highly regarded institution with a mission so vital to our nation.
I know firsthand the important role that Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data play in research on important topics and informing economic policy and decisionmaking. While writing my PhD thesis on wage differences among firms, I used BLS microdata, and I’ve used BLS products for research and policy analysis over my entire career. BLS data are particularly relevant to the nation’s economy at a time when we are emerging from the deepest recession since the Great Depression.
I’m looking forward to building on the strengths of BLS to help make this organization even stronger and more dynamic.
Describe the top 2–3 priorities you have for the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
My top priority is to get the best we can for the nation’s data dollar. Data are a pure public good, like roads and clean air. We all benefit when policy, personal, and business decisions are based on good evidence. Therefore, we must provide the best data possible, so people can make better-informed decisions. At BLS, our data should always meet the following criteria: accurate, objective, relevant, timely, and accessible. To fulfill this mission, we have to continually adapt our programs to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing economy. We must also continue to improve the dissemination and accessibility of our data so we can reach the greatest number of people.
What do you see as your biggest challenge for BLS?
The following three main challenges come to mind:
Maintaining quality of data and operations in a challenging budgetary environment.
Despite the budgetary challenges we face, there is no disputing that the country needs BLS and values the data we produce here. The leadership of BLS has done an admirable job of absorbing the stresses in the past, and I will work with them to continue that tradition.
Adapting to changes in economy and technology with proper care for continuity, confidentiality, and accessibility.
At BLS, we are always striving to provide our users with more data that reflect the economy as it is today, while still ensuring the confidentiality of our respondents and comparability with past series. This requires innovation in survey instruments, sampling frames, classifications, and statistical processing and analysis, as well as in our website’s query and search tools.
Recruiting and retaining the best talent.
An agency is its people. BLS is a world-class statistical agency because of its talented, dedicated staff. We need the brightest minds working on ways to maintain and improve our essential functions—instrument design, sample selection, data collection, processing, analysis, outreach, and more.
What kind of support from the statistical community do you look for?
Seeking outside ideas and contributions is critical to statistical agencies. Statistical advisory committees such as the Federal Economic Statistics Advisory Committee, BLS Data Users Advisory Committee, BLS Technical Advisory Committee, and review panels from the Committee on National Statistics are invaluable in helping us to continually improve our products and ensure we produce data that are useful to our customers. The statistical community also helps BLS maintain relevance and efficiency. Through collaboration and sharing data on projects of interest, we can answer questions together better than we can separately and stay up to date on industry standards and best practices, including the latest approaches in training, technology, and human resources management.
Prior to your tenure, what do you see as the biggest recent accomplishment of the agency?
The bureau is, as a senior Department of Labor official recently termed it, a “remarkable production machine.” In 2012, BLS published 175 national news releases and more than 700 regional news releases. Each was released on time with no major errors, which is a significant accomplishment. Even as it strived to implement crucial innovations, the bureau did not skip a beat in its production activities.