Could DUNS soon be done? A first step toward more open entity IDs

(Image credit: Dun & Bradstreet)

Last week, the Department of Defense (DoD), General Services Administration (GSA) and NASA proposed an amendment to the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) that would have a transformative effect on the way the government tracks its grants and contracts spending — and the way the public interacts with that information.

Currently, the FAR requires all entities that want to do business with the federal government to get a DUNS number, used as a unique numeric identifier. This language essentially gives a monopoly on entity tracking to Dun & Bradstreet, the firm that manages the proprietary DUNS numbering system and imposes restrictive licenses and high fees on potential users of the data.

Problems with this arrangement have been well documented by Sunlight, our allies, journalists and even the GAO. In short, relying on the proprietary DUNS standard is unnecessarily expensive and creates closed data out of public information, limiting its utility to watchdogs, researchers, journalists and more.

Now the DoD, GSA, and NASA are proposing to eliminate explicit references to the DUNS number from the FAR. This won’t immediately solve the problem, but it will pave the way for a more open system of entity identification.

DoD, GSA and NASA recognize that this is merely a first step and seem to understand that engaging public stakeholders will be vital to ensure a useful and open long term solution is agreed upon. Moving forward, according to the proposed rule, “the Federal Government will establish a transparent process for exploring potential alternatives to existing entity identifiers.”

The whole proposed rulemaking can be found here and comments are being accepted until Jan. 19, 2016.