The Harvard Chan School purchased an institutional subscription to the Boston Research Data Center (BRDC), which greatly reduces the cost of accessing non-public federal microdata for School researchers. These microdata represent unit-level or otherwise highly-disaggregated data on individual persons or households and fine geographic units such as blocks or zip codes.
Example of Harvard Chan School projects that have accessed the BRDC:
- Exploring Trends in US Health Inequities in Context (Krieger)
- Mortality Among Professional American-Style Football Players and Professional American Baseball Players (Weisskopf)
For more information contact Michele Sinunu in the Office of Research Strategy and Development (ORSD).
What is the Boston Research Data Center?
Located in Cambridge, the BRDC is a secure computing lab to access federal statistics research data and is operated as a partnership between the US Census Bureau and the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER).
The BRDC provides secure, on-premises access to perform statistical analyses on non-public microdata from 16 federal agencies including:
- Census Bureau, National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS)
- Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ)
- Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA)
- CDC National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS)
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality
A complete list of agencies providing data can be found here.
What data are available through the BRDC?
Data available for use within the BRDC include a wide range of Census microdata files. A searchable list of restricted-access data from the Federal Statistical System is available, as are examples of work performed in the FSRDC system in the CES Working Paper Series and Annual Reports.
Spreadsheets available through this link contain metadata and information on recent research products from active and completed FSRDC projects.
Who can access the BRDC?
Qualified researchers who have approved proposals from the data-providing agencies may access the BRDC.
“Qualified researchers” are individuals who have obtained a moderate security clearance called “Special Sworn Status” (SSS). To apply for SSS you must be someone who has lived in the US for at least 3 of the last 5 years. Although SSS is required for all individuals accessing the BRDC, there may be additional requirements depending on what data access is being requested.
Important note: no data or results (e.g. coefficients) may be removed from the BRDC until approved by the agency providing the data. Additionally, during the analysis, preliminary results can only be discussed with other research team members with SSS when team members are inside the BRDC. For example, if a postdoc is conducting an analysis at the BRDC, they cannot discuss their preliminary findings with their PI unless the PI also has SSS and they are both in the BRDC. Please ensure all members who will need to see early results also have SSS. The BRDC Administrator can provide more details (Shital Sharma, BRDC Administrator, US Census Bureau).
What is the process for accessing data at a BRDC?
It is important to contact the BRDC Administrator early on about your intended project to help you navigate the process and answer your questions. Proposals may be submitted on a rolling basis. Once the project and SSS are approved, researchers become sworn agents of the Census Bureau and can work within the BRDC secure facility.
- Contact the BRDC to discuss your project plans
- Develop your project proposal
- Proposal Guidelines for each of the FSRDC statistical agencies can be found on their web pages, with links available on this page.
- An approved proposal is required to perform research within the BRDC. The Standard Application Process (SAP) portal is the “front door” for applying to access data from any of the 16 federal statistical agencies that make data available. Through the portal you can browse the metadata catalog, select data for your research, and apply for research access.
- Apply for Special Sworn Status.
- Conduct analyses inside the secure environment at the BRDC space in Cambridge, MA.
- Submit for Disclosure Avoidance Review to the federal agency providing the data to ensure confidential information is not released from the BRDC before results can be removed from the secure environment.
Where is the BRDC?
The BRDC is located in the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) building at 1050 Massachusetts Ave in Cambridge. Once your proposal is approved, you must access the data from within the secure BRDC facility.
What are the fees for accessing data through the BRDC?
The Harvard Chan School has paid the subscription cost to use data at BRDC, however there may be additional fees depending on which agency’s data you will be working with.
The School-supported subscription covers all administrative fees from the Census Bureau, including the cost of obtaining the Special Sworn Status (SSS). If you are requesting data from any other agency the cost of obtaining SSS is $1,800. There may be additional administrative fees from the agency which may be as high as $3,000. Please contact the data providing agency directly to learn more about any administrative fees.
How long does the process take to work with data at the BRDC?
Once the proposal is developed, the process of getting approval and obtaining Special Sworn Status (SSS) can take several months each. The application for SSS cannot be started until the project is approved. More time is needed if the proposal must be reviewed by multiple agencies. Please contact the data providing agency directly for more details on timeframes.