Data Products » Restricted Data » Frequently Asked Questions

Accessing HRS Restricted Data in the MiCDA Enclave VDI Environment

Application and Access

  1. Q: What requirements do I need to meet in order to receive HRS Restricted Data?
    A: Please review the instructions contained here: Step-By-Step: Accessing HRS restricted data through the MiCDA Enclave Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)
  2. Q: I am...
    • ...a researcher who wants to use CMS research data with HRS public, sensitive, and/or restricted data.
    • ...a tenured researcher with federal funding who works for a research organization that is not part of an educational institution.
    • ...a researcher with who works for a United States Government Agency.
    • ...a researcher at a state government agency
    • ...a faculty member or student at an educational institution located outside the United States and would like to use HRS Restricted Data.
    How can I gain access to HRS Restricted Data Products?
    A: The quickest and easiest option is to apply for access to the MiCDA Enclave. Please see Step-By-Step: Accessing HRS restricted data through the MiCDA Enclave Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)
  3. Q:Which HRS data products are available through the MiCDA Enclave?
    A: All HRS public. sensitive and restricted data products are available through the MiCDA Data Enclave Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI). Please use the Restricted Data Order Form when requesting HRS restricted data products.
  4. Q: Can I access MiCDA Enclave remotely, or do I need to visit Ann Arbor?
    A: You can connect to the MiCDA Enclave by using the Microsoft Remote Desktop client. Two-factor authentication is required. Configuration instructions will be provided after your application is approved.
  5. Q: Do I need IRB approval in order to access HRS restricted data in the MiCDA Enclave?
    A: Proof of IRB/human subjects review from the researcher's home institution is required. Acceptable determinations include: approval; exemption for secondary analysis; not regulated.
  6. Q: How long does a decision about an application regarding restricted data usually take?
    A: Permission to access the Enclave typically takes 6 weeks or more, based on the complexity of the request.
  7. Q: Do you have {R/Matlab/M-plus/Stata/SAS/SPSS/ArcGIS/Microsoft Office/...} on the MiCDA Enclave server?
    A: Yes, most software tools used by researchers are available; contact us if you have a specific software requirement.
  8. Q: Can researchers at separate institutions gain access to restricted data under the same agreement.
    A: Yes. The MiCDA Data Enclave Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) will provide a solution to your problem
  9. Q: Can I access the MiCDA Enclave from my home/work computer?
    A: Yes, a MiCDA VDI Data Security Plan is required.
  10. Q: I am looking for data elements that are not included in the HRS public files. Is there a way to obtain this information as restricted data?
    A: Possibly, depending on the type of data sought and the resources entailed in making the data set available. Also there are certain data elements (names, telephone numbers, street addresses, employer names and addresses, patient identifiers, etc.) that will never be released. Contact HRS before you submit your proposal.
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Geographic Data Availability and/or Usage Questions

  1. Q: Is it possible to merge area data from specific areas in the U.S. with HRS respondent data?
    A: Yes, geographic information down to the census tract level is available as restricted data. Details here: Cross-Wave Geographic Information (Detail) [1992-2014].
  2. Q: I would like to apply for HRS geographic data files and merge them with SSA administrative data. Is this possible?
    A: On an exception basis, with written approval from the HRS project director, detailed geographic information may be merged with HRS-SSA data. The venue for all HRS-SSA matching is the MiCDA Data Enclave VDI Environment.
  3. Q: If I am studying a specific county [or state or Census Tract], will I be able to link HRS respondent information to area data for that [geographic entity]?
    A: Yes and no. It is possible to link county data for HRS respondents who happen to live in that county. But it is important to note that those respondents would NOT constitute a sample of the population of that county. HRS uses a national area probability sample of US households. This means that not every state will contain HRS respondents and that respondents within any sub-national geographic area do not constitute a sample of that area. This excerpt from the HRS sample design document explains:
    "The primary stage of sampling involves probability proportionate to size (PPS) selection of U.S. Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) and non-MSA counties. This stage is followed by a second stage sampling of area segments (SSUs) within sampled primary stage units (PSUs). The third stage of sample selection is preceded by a complete listing (enumeration) of all housing units (HUs) that are physically located within the bounds of the selected SSU. The third sampling stage is a systematic selection of housing units from the HU listings for the sample SSUs. The fourth and final stage in the multi-stage design is the selection of the household financial unit within a sample HU."
  4. Q: I had seen somewhere online that HRS only originally sampled from 35 states. There are people in my sample in almost all 50 states because of movers, but when I was running some of my regressions I was running into trouble when there were only a few observations in a state, so I ran some excluding what looked like the 15 states that weren’t originally sampled. Is it public that HRS sampled 35 states and which ones those are or should I not disclose that information?
    A: HRS is based on a national sample frame that did/does not include all states. Due to migration patterns, most states and territories now have HRS respondents. It is important to remember that the set of respondents in a given state do not constitute a sample of that state's population. From the text of your email it seems as if you have figured this out. Please remember that as an Enclave user, you may not report state-level results, or specifics such as which states were in the original sample.
  5. Q: Are there any restricted HRS data products that include the respondents’ state of birth and/or city/county of birth?
    A: State of birth (but not city or county) is available. Please see the Cross-Wave Geographic Information (Detail) dataset.
  6. Q: Is there publically available HRS data that has county or area level information such as poverty and age structure? Or would getting this information merged require an application for restricted data?
    A: In order to merge in county-level area data you will need to apply for access to restricted geographic information data through the MiCDA Enclave
  7. Q: We are hoping to apply for an R01 using the HRS where we’d apply for state-level restricted data. No need to reveal anything, we’re just looking for sample sizes.
    A: This information is available. Contact the HRS Help Desk for more information.
  8. Q: I have a question regarding the Beale Rural-Urban Continuum codes in the Cross-Wave Census Region/Division and Mobility File. It states they have been bracketed to protect confidentiality in this file. Are they available at the smallest unit recorded (I think this is county-level) in a restricted data set?
    A:Yes, in the Cross-Wave Geographic Information (Detail) dataset.
  9. Q: I am trying to use the HRS Urban-rural code to create a dummy variable to indicatior whether the respondent's current location is urban or rural. However, I am not sure how to code the suburban and ex-urban groups. I'd be so appreciative if you could provide me any guidance.
    A: This is a decision that must be made by the researcher.
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Other Data Product Availability and/or Usage Questions

  1. Q: If my project gets approval for access to the Social Security Administrative Data Linkages on MiCDA would I be allowed to have the RAND HRS data product linked to the SSA records on the enclave?
    A: As noted above, all HRS files: public, sensitive health, and restricted are available through the MiCDA Enclave. The latest version of RAND-HRS is installed in a folder available to all HRS Enclave accounts.
  2. Q:Q: In the health conditions master codes list, Parkinson's disease is grouped with various other neurological conditions, including MS, cerebral palsy, and ALS under code 163. Is there any way to separate these conditions in the data set?
    A: For the purpose of respondent privacy, this data is masked in the public data sets and you will not be able to distinguish one condition from the other.  The one data source you might be able to use in order to obtain similar information would be our restricted HRS Medicare Claims and Summary file, which links to CMS Medicare data.
  3. Q:I am currently working on a research project on interviewer effect heterogeneity.  For my project I need interviewer IDs as well as other characteristics of interviewers (age, education etc.). Are such data elements available?
    A: No. Current policy: Interviewer identification information is not available for either public or restricted release
  4. Q: Is cause-specific mortality available in HRS?
    A: Not at the present time. It is possible that such information (based in the National Death Index) might be made available at some future data. Please check back in 6 months.
  5. Q: Are the HRS data files within the Enclave organized in the same way that they are on the HRS/ISR data downloads website? That is, are there separate distribution sets for each wave, within which are compressed files for each sub-section, or is there a different structure?
    A: HRS files on the VDE server are organized in a format that is radically different from that seen on the file download site. All public, sensitive and restricted data files are arranged in appropriate folders on the VDE server in system file format (see image). There is no need for users to run command files against ASCII data files to produce system files. When Enclave users of HRS data products log in, they will have access to all public data files as well as the restricted/sensitive data files referenced in their user agreement.
    Sample VDI file structure
  6. Q: I am unclear about what parts of HRS are public and what parts are secure. Can I download the urban-rural codes (from the geographic – region/division file) and merge onto the public use HRS file myself?
    A: Yes, both are public files and there is no restriction on merging of public files. The public urban-rural codes are actually recodes; if you need the originals you will need to apply for access to restricted geographic information data through the MiCDA Enclave.
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MiCDA Enclave Export and Import

  1. Q: Can I upload my own data to use with the data from the server?
    A:Yes. You can upload your files via sftp to a temporary storage area. Enclave staff members will then review the files and install them in your Enclave user space.
  2. Q: What are the rules for exporting information from the MiCDA Enclave? I need to show my results to my advisor.
    A: Be aware of three key constraints that will result in rejection of an export request:
    1. Export of microdata files or of analysis output containing information at the respondent level is not allowed.
    2. Tabulations may be exported, but are subject to the following rules:
      • Magnitude Data: Ensure that no cells/strata with N < 3 are produced.
      • Frequency Data: Apply a marginal threshold of N >= 5 and cell threshold of N >= 3 to all tabulations
    3. Users may not export any analysis output that can potentially identify respondents, sampling information, or geographic areas below the level of Census Region/Division, either directly or inferentially.
    For more detailed information, including an explanation of export procedures, review MiCDA Enclave Export Rules. Note: This information applies only to output generated from HRS restricted data.
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Technical Questions

  1. Q: I want to connect to my Enclave account via my MacBook. Is there a version of the Windows Remote Desktop client for OS X?
    A: Yes. The Microsoft Remote Desktop Client is available through the Mac App Store.
  2. Q: How does two-factor authentication work?
    A: We use a sercise called Duo for two-factor authentication. As part of the Enclave account setup, you will install the Duo Mobile app on your smartphone. You'll receive a text message to activate the app for use with the Enclave secure data environment. By default, as soon as the Remote Desktop client authenticates with your username and password, the MiCDA system sends push notification to the device hosting the Duo app. Your response completes the authentication process.
  3. Q: I am merging HRS RAND files from 2006-2012 on MiCDA. I was only able to merge three waves (2006, 2008, and 2010). Stata said there is no room to add more variables from 2012 wave. Should we relax the memory limit on Stata on MiCDA?
    A: The maximum number of variables allowed in Stata MP is 32,767. If you are merging FAT files across waves, you will run into the 32767-variable limit after 3 waves have been merged. The only way around this is to subset variables of interest before undertaking cross-wave merging.
  4. Q: HRS sent me an encrypted ZIP file on CD/DVD. After I received the password to unlock the file I receive an error. What's happening?
    A: You should begin the decryption/decompressing process by copying the contents of the CD/DVD to a secure work folder. Once that process is complete, the self-decrypting archive files should behave normally. Windows users should be aware that the built-in Windows decompression utility will not process AES-256 bit encrypted ZIP files; it halts with "An unexpected error is keeping you from copying the file" error. As an alternative, Windows users should download and install a third-party compression/decompression such as WinZIP, or 7-Zip.
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Accessing Restricted Data through Traditional License (Deprecated)

  1. Q: What requirements do I need to meet in order to receive HRS Restricted Data through a traditional license?
    A: The two crucial requirements for traditional licensing access are:
    • You must be affiliated with an institution that has obtained an Assurance of Compliance from the Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP) of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
    • You must be a Principal Investigator or Co-Principal Investigator on a project funded by a current United States Government research grant or contract. If you are a Co-Principal Investigator, the Principal Investigator must sign the Restricted Data Agreement. Note: Only persons with permanent, faculty-level appointments may receive HRS Restricted Datasets.
  2. Q: I am a researcher who cannot meet traditional license agreement requirements for access to HRS Restricted Data. Is there any way to get HRS Restricted Data for my use?
    A: There are two possibilities:
  3. Q: I am...
    • ...a researcher who wants to use CMS research data with HRS public, sensitive, and/or restricted data.
    • ...a tenured researcher with federal funding who works for a research organization that is not part of an educational institution.
    • ...a researcher with who works for a United States Government Agency.
    • ...a researcher at a state government agency
    • ...a faculty member or student at an educational institution located outside the United States and would like to use HRS Restricted Data.
    Should I apply for access to HRS restricted data products through a traditional license?
    A: No. See Accessing Restricted Data through MiCDA Enclave VDI Environment, above.
  4. Q: I am applying for restricted data as a traditional licensing agreement user. What computing environments and operating systems do you support?
    A: We distribute our data in formats that are compatible with most computing environments and operating systems.
    • Environments: We recommend a standalone workstation, although networked or client-server configurations are possible. We do not recommend such solutions due to the delay in approval necessitated by the extended review process that these configurations require. If you intend to use this configuration, be sure to read this memorandum on client security.
    • Operating Systems: Windows 10, Windows 7 (Professional, Ultimate, or Enterprise), Mac OS-X 10.4.x and above, all flavors of Unix. Contact HRS if your operating system is not on this list. Note: Windows XP is no longer supported.
    • Workstation Configuration: We recommend the use of secured desktop systems with wireless access removed or permanently disabled. The use of laptop or tablet computers is strongly discouraged and will be approved only in extraordinary circumstances.
  5. Q: Can researchers at separate institutions gain access to restricted data under the same licensing agreement.
    A: No. See Accessing Restricted Data through MiCDA Enclave VDI Environment, above.
  6. Q: I would like to apply for HRS geographic data files and merge them with SSA administrative data in a traditional license environment. What are my options?
    A: See Accessing Restricted Data through MiCDA Enclave VDI Environment, above.
  7. Q: I am looking for data elements that are not included in the HRS public files. Is there a way to obtain this information as restricted data?
    A: See Accessing Restricted Data through MiCDA Enclave VDI Environment, above.
  8. Q: How will the restricted data files be delivered?
    A: For traditional license agreement users, restricted data products are encrypted using the AES-256 format and are delivered on CD/DVD via courier. Windows users should be aware that the built-in Windows decompression utility will not process AES-256 bit encrypted ZIP files; it halts with "An unexpected error is keeping you from copying the file" error. As an alternative, Windows users should download and install a third-party compression/decompression such as WinZIP, or 7-Zip. .
  9. Q: I want to work with HRS Restricted Data as an assistant to a traditional license researcher. I don't have my own office or computer, but I do have access to a public computing facility. Can I qualify for access to restricted data under these conditions?
    A: No. See Accessing Restricted Data through MiCDA Enclave VDI Environment, above.
  10. Q: Can you give me any further advice on dealing with HRS Restricted Data in a traditional license environment?
    A: Yes, the following documents may be of use.
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Last change: May 2017