Sun could be setting on DUNS

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The federal government is taking the first steps toward getting rid of a proprietary business identifier it uses in its procurement processes and that critics say weakens open-data initiatives.

To track its spending, the government requires contractors and grantees to obtain a unique identifying code under the Data Universal Numbering System, which is maintained by Dun and Bradstreet. Companies and the government must pay each time they use the codes, which ends up costing millions of dollars every year.

Critics of the DUNS number say that continuing to use a proprietary code to track public information makes little sense economically or for governmental efforts to open up access to public data in new ways.

The sun might finally be setting for DUNS. The three agencies responsible for overseeing the Federal Acquisition Regulation that drives procurement officially proposed stepping away from DUNS numbers in a Nov. 18 notice in the Federal Register.

The Defense Department, the General Services Administration and NASA have suggested amending the FAR to alter the terminology regarding unique identification of entities that receive federal contracts and grants. The change "will remove the proprietary standard or number," the notice states. The agencies are accepting public comments on the proposal until Jan. 19, 2016.

Hudson Hollister, founder and executive director of the Data Transparency Coalition and a DUNS critic, said the federal government's reliance on DUNS is at cross purposes with government efforts under the Data Accountability and Transparency Act to make publicly owned data more accessible and searchable.

Hollister said the move away from the DUNS could eventually make accessing and searching data on federal contractors and spending more efficient and less expensive. He added that it could also aid efforts to gather and compare data under strategic sourcing initiatives and GSA's Acquisition Gateway.

He also said he hopes a two-pronged effort -- by DOD, GSA and NASA on the one hand and the Treasury Department and the Office of Management and Budget on the other -- will eventually get rid of the DUNS number.

Treasury and OMB are working under an ambitious schedule, set by the Data Act, for the federal government to begin publishing spending information in an open, machine-readable format.

As part of that effort, OMB and Treasury officials decided earlier this year to keep DUNS as the official identifier for recipients of federal contracts and assistance but said they would look into eventually moving away from the proprietary standard.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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