GSA Moves Closer to Ending Reliance on DUNS Numbers in Contracting

Mark Van Scyoc/Shutterstock

The General Services Administration on Wednesday solicited information from industry on planned reforms to the governmentwide system for identifying and validating businesses.

Since the 1970s, agencies have relied on the proprietary Dun & Bradstreet Data Universal Numbering System, or DUNS number, as the main tag for files on companies that bid for federal contracts.

Last September, GSA updated its Dun & Bradstreet contract to allow agency acquisition personnel and contractors wider latitude to use standardized company information for purposes beyond mere identification. In addition, both the Federal Acquisition Regulation and the regulations in Title Two of the Code of Federal Regulations have been revised to delete proprietary references to Dun & Bradstreet and DUNS.

This week’s request for information noted that Dun & Bradstreet’s contract to provide services to uniquely identify each commercial, nonprofit or government entity in contract relationships expires in 2018.

“This RFI represents a step forward in assessing entity validation services purchased by [GSA’s Integrated Award Environment] on behalf of the entire government awards community,” says Integrated Award Environment Deputy Assistant Commissioner Vicky Niblett. “We want to ensure integrity over the awards of taxpayer dollars as we proceed to the next steps. GSA remains committed to transparency within this process, and seeks to obtain maximum public input.”

Following public comment (the period ends March 13), GSA expects to issue a request for proposals or solicitations.

The request was seen as a “step in the right direction” by the Data Coalition, a champion of the 2014 Digital Accountability and Transparency Act and advocate for open and standardized government data. It has joined with other groups in a “Dump DUNS” movement pressing for the government to adopt a free, nonproprietary data standard for identifying entities that receive government funding.

"It is time to liberate government data from the DUNS Number, said Hudson Hollister, the coalition’s executive director. "GSA's RFI shows there is momentum within government to adopt a non-proprietary identifier like the Legal Entity Identifier. If the LEI or another non-proprietary identifier is adopted, the government, citizens, businesses and journalists could freely access and re-use public information that is currently restricted by D&B's licensing.”

On Friday, the company said in a statement, "Dun & Bradstreet continues to work with the GSA and is committed to increasing transparency into government business partners and their activities, making government procurement data smarter, which benefits the American taxpayer. We support an open and fair assessment of Entity Validation Providers, and are confident that the value of the DUNS Number remains unmatched."

This story was updated with a statement from Dun & Bradstreet.

Image via Mark Van Scyoc/Shutterstock.

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