Virginia Tech has entered into an agreement with Georgetown University to allow four approved projects access to restricted microdata through the Georgetown Federal Statistical Research Data Center. The Institute for Society, Culture and Environment (ISCE) played a pivotal role in the negotiation of the agreement and will make available funding to Virginia Tech researchers who receive approval for their projects.

“This new agreement is an excellent way to help faculty develop robust research projects addressing policy and other questions of national significance, which in turn will provide a competitive edge for publication in top tier journals and external funding,” said Karen Roberto, director of ISCE, a Virginia Tech research investment institute that supports faculty working in the social, behavioral, and policy science space.

There are multiple Federal Statistical Research Data Centers (FSRDCs) across the country, including the one at Georgetown. The centers, which are secure federal facilities that have a dedicated administrator who is an on-site Census Bureau employee, provide client workstations for researchers to access FSRDC servers and secure communication with federal agencies who own the data. Through these centers, researchers can access restricted microdata from at least 12 federal agencies including the Census Bureau, National Center for Education Statistics, National Agricultural Statistics Service, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Internal Revenue Service, and the National Center for Health Statistics.

The FSRDC administrator helps researchers develop their proposals before they are submitted through a formal review and approval process by the agencies that own the data. Due to strict security guidelines, all work with restricted data must take place at one of the FSRDCs and investigators must undergo background checks that result in them having a “Special Sworn Status” (SSS).  The SSS means they are considered unpaid Census Bureau employees. Researchers must also have results formally reviewed before their findings can leave the secure facility or be disseminated in any way.

“We are excited to have secured this agreement as it provides Virginia Tech researchers with the opportunity to develop four projects through 2024,” Roberto said.

Ben Rosa, an assistant professor in the department of economics in the College of Science, has been approved for one of the four projects for his research focused on the entry, growth and survival of firms in underutilized business areas. He is examining the impact of the HUBZone program, and benefits it offers, such as easier access to credit and streamlined government contracting, on the firms in these underserved areas.

"While I could look at aggregate data to examine some impacts of the HUBZone program, the access to the restricted microdata will allow me to look at individual firms. This feature is important because it allows me to understand what happens to firms that move in and out of the area," Rosa said.

Due to the formal approval process and background check, it takes a significant amount of time before researchers receive approval to begin work on their projects. For Rosa, this process took approximately a year.

“I received approval from the Census first after about three to four months; however, I still needed approval from the IRS and the background check. In addition, the Census provided me corrections that I needed to incorporate into my proposal before it was reviewed by the IRS. I now have all my approvals and hope to begin work soon,” Rosa said.

While ISCE funded the one-time fee that covers the development and administration costs for the four projects, researchers may still have individual project fees such as for data extraction, preparation, and linkages.  

To assist Virginia Tech faculty who receive approval for a project, ISCE will provide awards of up to $5,000 to help cover these kinds of costs, as well as travel expenses to and from Georgetown, student wages, or other similar expenses.

“Applying for one of the remaining project slots is a three-step process: register intent to apply with ISCE; work with the Georgetown FSRDC administrator to develop and submit the proposal; and, upon approval from the FSDRC, submission of a request to ISCE for individual project funds,” Roberto said.

Prior to applying for ISCE support, faculty are encouraged to meet with Roberto to discuss their project, timeline and budget. Interested faculty should visit the ISCE website for more information about this program or contact Yancey Crawford.

Written by Yancey Crawford