Industry dealings could be more transparent in open-source tracking system

Feds to benefit from Orgpedia open-source system instead of current proprietary system, Noveck writes

Former White House Deputy CTO Beth Noveck is promoting a public/private program to develop an open-source numbering and unique legal identifier system for the nation’s 18 million businesses and organizations to facilitate cross-cutting research and analysis, Noveck has written.

The federal government spends about $53 million annually on a proprietary system owned by Dun & Bradstreet that assigns and maintains the Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) unique identifiers for businesses and other private entities. For example, contractors in the database are labeled with DUNS numbers.

Several economists, technologists and government officials, along with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Sunlight Foundation and New York Law School, are involved in the "Orgpedia" project to develop a taxonomy to identify, number and compare business entities, Noveck wrote in her blog April 3. Noveck left the White House in January to return to being a professor of law at New York Law School.

Related story:

Do contractor ID numbers taint transparency?

Orgpedia's goal is to promote greater accountability and compliance, encourage innovation, and enable research, Noveck wrote.

An open-source system would benefit open government and transparency because it would facilitate comparison and analysis, while reducing costs to the government, she added.

“In order to make the information about how government spends accessible to people, we need to be able to trace this money even when companies change ownership and name,” Noveck wrote. "For example, when Boeing acquires McDonnell Douglas, a search today does not connect these two entities to provide an accurate picture."

“This makes having a unique identifier a priority," she added. "If we had the ability to trace changes such as mergers, we could better understand the connection, if any, between government grants/contracts and campaign contributions; we could spot fraud and remove offending companies from the rolls across agencies.”

An open-source numbering system also would help comparisons between datasets and mashups of different datasets, she added.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.


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