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Spotlight on Commerce: Tommy Wright, Chief, Center for Statistical Research and Methodology, U. S. Bureau of the Census

Tommy Wright, Chief, Center for Statistical Research and Methodology, U. S. Bureau of the Census

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting members of the Department of Commerce and their contributions to building a middle class economy in honor of Black History Month

Guest blog post by Tommy Wright, Center for Statistical Research and Methodology, U. S. Bureau of the Census

Since joining the U. S. Census Bureau in January 1996 as a research mathematical statistician, I have provided the overall technical leadership for the Center for Statistical Research & Methodology (formerly Statistical Research Division). The Center for Statistical Research & Methodology is the Census Bureau's statistical and methodological research and consulting facility.  CSRM researchers are engaged in collaborative work applying known statistical methods and in research for new and better statistical  methods motivated by practical problems using tools from two key areas: mathematical statistics and statistical computing. Our statistical methods include: (1) methods that can link hundreds of millions of records in one data set with hundreds of millions of records in another; methods to bring better modeling to the internal processing of data from sample surveys and censuses, including data visualization; methods to compensate for missing data when respondents do not answer all questions on a questionnaire; methods to make inferences about finite populations (e.g., of people or of businesses) using data from probability samples; methods to produce reliable estimates of characteristics for small levels of geography or small subpopulations when the sample sizes for these areas are very small or zero; methods to seasonally adjust economic time series; and methods to test new or improved operations using computer simulations or designed experiments.

A key aspect of my role is helping the Census Bureau define statistical problems and finding excellent researchers  to work on them.  My colleagues and I work in collaboration with other Census Bureau staff as well as through interaction with academic, industrial, government, and other researchers. I recruit, develop, and maintain a core staff of researchers with expertise in statistics, statistical computing, and mathematics. The problems and collaborations in my work are a constant source of stimulating challenges that are especially rewarding when research results are used and published.

Between 1979 and 1996, I was a research staff member of the Mathematical Sciences Section at Oak Ridge National Laboratory where my research focused on probability sampling and estimation, the design of sample surveys, and elementary applied probability and combinatorics.

I have over 30 years of undergraduate/graduate teaching experience in statistics and mathematics at Knoxville College; University of Tennessee-Oak Ridge Graduate Program; University of Tennessee, Knoxville; and most recently Georgetown University where I continue to serve as adjunct faculty since 2009. I was an ASA/NSF/Census Research Fellow (1993-1996) pursuing research into using probability sampling methods to improve the constitutionally required decennial census count.

Currently, my personal research has me actively engaged in the consideration of several problems: (1) optimal allocation of the sample in sample surveys; (2) apportionment methods for the distribution of seats in the U. S. House of Representatives following each census; (3) expressing uncertainty in rankings based on sample surveys; (4) understanding what interviewers do to obtain cooperation in government face-to-face sample surveys; and (5) thinking about a role for big data with official government statistics.  These problems are all related to our mission to provide quality data that helps leaders and decision makers maintain our nation's representative form of democracy.

I received the M.S. and Ph.D. in statistics from The Ohio State University, the M.S. in mathematics from the University of Tennessee, and the B.S. in mathematics from Knoxville College. My broad contributions in collaborative research (author of one book, editor of another, and author of over 40 papers in statistics and mathematics journals), teaching, and service have led to professional recognition: (i) Elected Member, International Statistical Institute (1989) and (ii) Fellow, American Statistical Association (1995).

Beyond the influence of my mother and my community while growing up in Birmingham, Alabama in the 1960s, I recall the constant encouragement and push from my teachers urging my fellow students and me to always work hard so that we would be "ready for integration". Seeking to work hard and finding inner joy with a positive spirit in all things that one does is advice I would give to all youth.

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