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Data Access

ERS plans to make the National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) restricted data available to external researchers in the Summer of 2014. This page provides information about:

Data confidentiality and restricted availability

Because FoodAPS data include confidential information, ERS has a legal obligation to prevent accidental or willful disclosure of information that might identify a survey respondent. FoodAPS has invoked the protections and regulations of the Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act (CIPSEA) of 2002 (see Implementation Guidance for Title V of the E-Government Act, Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act of 2002 (CIPSEA) 16x16 - PDF ). CIPSEA requires that the collected data be used strictly for statistical purposes and promises respondents high levels of data protection against disclosure of identifying information. Penalties for a violation of CIPSEA procedures can result in a fine of up to $250,000 and/or five years in prison. 

Anyone requesting access to FoodAPS's restricted data files will be required to complete CIPSEA training and sign a CIPSEA pledge of confidentiality.

Micro data will first become available to researchers as CIPSEA-protected, restricted-use data files. All researchers, including ERS staff, must be CIPSEA-trained and sign a pledge of confidentiality before being granted access to restricted data. Furthermore, all research results must be reviewed for disclosure risk and approved by the ERS Confidentiality Officer or his/her designee before the results can be shared with anybody who has not signed an ERS confidentiality agreement that specifically relates to the FoodAPS data.

Procedures for requesting access to FoodAPS data

The following steps will be required to obtain approval to access the restricted-use FoodAPS data:

1. Complete a Project agreement 16x16 - PDF , for each individual research project that will access FoodAPS, which provides:

  • A description of the research question(s) to be investigated and the statistical technique(s) that will be used;
  • A list of data elements needed for the planned analysis;
  • A description of household types that will be included in the research;
  • Table shells and charts that show how research results are expected to be presented;
  • A schedule for data analysis, draft of research results, and submission of research paper or report; and
  • The number of research team members that will need direct access to the data.

Note: Submitted proposals will be evaluated primarily on the risk that the proposed research may breach confidentiality. Proposals that address questions for which FoodAPS data are not well-suited, however, will not be approved. For example, a proposal to use FoodAPS data to estimate outcomes for a single State will not be approved because the FoodAPS sample was designed to provide results that may be generalized only at the national level. 

Approval will be given only to those proposals that provide suitable protection against disclosure of confidential information about FoodAPS respondents. To meet this end, proposals should address how data and research results will be protected during analysis and report preparation. To help assure ERS that disclosure risk will be minimized, careful forethought should be given to:

    • The specific data elements needed for the proposed research;
    • The sample sizes of subgroups of interest; and
    • How research results will be presented in tables, charts, and figures.

It is unlikely that proposals to present maps based on FoodAPS data will be approved, unless the research team can demonstrate to ERS that the maps would not disclose the PSUs or SSUs of sampled respondents.

Researchers are encouraged to review the list of approved research projects already in progress (see Research Topics).

Results of approved projects will be reviewed by ERS for disclosure risk, and then approved or disapproved for public release. Any results that are not part of an approved FoodAPS project will be declined for public dissemination. This applies even to results (of unapproved projects) that pose no disclosure risks. 

Note: Please submit a completed Project agreement electronically to John A. Kirlin for approval. You will then be advised about the next steps in the process.

2. Complete a ERS memorandum of understanding (MOU) between ERS and your organization, which grants access to FoodAPS data exclusively for statistical purposes under a pledge of confidentiality. The term of the MOU is for two years, and it may be extended. Before preparing a MOU, a Project agreement with a researcher from the organization must have been approved by ERS.

3. Successfully complete the USDA Web-based CIPSEA training course. This requirement applies to all research team members who will access the data, develop or review interim tables and charts displaying research results, or draft any written material based on analysis of FoodAPS data. Once a proposal is approved, send team member names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses to the ERS Data Custodian to sign up for the online training. CIPSEA training must be renewed annually.

4. Once the CIPSEA training has been certified as successfully completed, each team member must sign the ERS confidentiality agreement. Again, this applies to all team members who will access the data, develop or review interim tables and charts displaying research results, or draft any written material based on analysis of FoodAPS data. The confidentiality agreement must be renewed annually.

Once formal agreements have been signed, access to the restricted-use FoodAPS data will be obtained via a secure data enclave managed by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC). Researchers with approved research proposals will need to lease special thin-client devices from NORC that permit access only to the data enclave. The annual cost for one (lead) researcher to access the data at NORC is $5,200 per year. However, for each additional researcher who is listed on the MOU and Project Agreement as a collaborator to the lead researcher, and who requires an additional thin client machine, the cost is approximately $850 per machine.

NORC requires two additional documents for access to the data enclave; these documents establish a confidentiality agreement between the user and NORC. To obtain these documents, email NORC at: In addition, NORC requires all ERS-approved researchers to participate in a short online training course to learn how to access and manipulate data within the enclave, to learn about the processes involved in importing and exporting files, and to learn the rules involved in the statistical disclosure review process.

A site visit by the ERS Security Officer or designee may be required for offsite access using NORC. The site visit includes the elements listed in the ERS workplace security checklist.

Data access forms

Please submit all forms to Dawn Williams on the FoodAPS team. The following forms are available for download:

ERS memorandum of understanding PDF icon (16x16)  

ERS project agreement PDF icon (16x16)  

ERS confidentiality agreement PDF icon (16x16)

ERS workplace security checklist PDF icon (16x16)

Last updated: Wednesday, June 11, 2014

For more information contact: Dawn Williams, John A. Kirlin, and Mark Denbaly

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