Open Data

GSA looks for possible DUNS replacements

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For the second time in 2017, the General Services Administration is requesting feedback on ways to reduce its reliance on the proprietary business entity identifier system it uses to keep track of government contracts.

GSA posted a request for information Oct. 25, soliciting possible replacement for the current contract and grant identifying system.

As it stands, the federal contracting system relies on the Data Universal Numbering System, or DUNS number, from Dun and Bradstreet, whose contract for business identifiers is set to expire in 2018.

The hazards of using a proprietary reference system became clear in 2014, when a key contract covering data use on the Recovery.gov website expired, and D&B pulled its data from the site.

Since then, D&B signed an agreement with GSA to allow federal agencies and the public wider use of the data used to track government grants and contracts.

Transparency advocates have been critical in the past of the proprietary system, in which contracting information cannot be freely downloaded in bulk. The implementation of the Data Act has opened up agency spending data, and an office within the Treasury Department has mulled the open Legal Entity Identifier as an alternative in the past.

Hudson Hollister, founder and executive director of the Data Coalition, told FCW that GSA's posting of a second RFI for the same contract, as well as the language of the most recent RFI, suggests "GSA wants to find a way to identify contractors that doesn't give any one entity a monopoly over the data the way the current system does."

The RFI's draft performance work statement states that the new numbering system should be "available for public use at the federal government's discretion," which, Hollister noted, "is different than the current standard."

In a statement sent to FCW, a D&B spokesperson said of the RFI, "the federal government has leveraged the DUNS number for the past 40 years because it provides critical data and insights into the government's business partners and programs, including beneficial ownership, company hierarchy linkage and historical financial data, as well as other information that the government needs to effectively manage and run its operations."

"It's clear Dun and Bradstreet is very good at running the registration system for contractors.

D&B has a long history and expertise in tracking and identifying" grantees and contractors, Hollister said. "The only change we've been pushing for is for the data to be freely available for bulk download."

In a statement, GSA Deputy Assistant Commissioner of Integrated Award Environment Vicky Niblett said the agency expects to release the final request for proposal in the second quarter of fiscal year 2018.

"The team here at GSA is committed to transparently exploring all possible alternatives to meet its need for entity identification and validation services," she said.

The request is open for public feedback until close of business Nov. 20.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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