GSA's New Contract With Dun & Bradstreet Draws Mixed Reaction

Last week’s announcement that the General Services Administration had updated its Dun & Bradstreet contract will allow agency acquisition personnel and contractors wider latitude to use the standardized company information for purposes beyond mere identification.

But some transparency advocates consider the step insufficient.

In a Sept. 29 blog post, Kevin Youel Page, deputy commissioner of GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service, announced changes in the proprietary system for business identifiers in its Integrated Award Environment tracking system that are a “huge step forward in the goal to make data more accessible and readily available across government.”

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This new way to record contracts and grants using the Dun & Bradstreet system is in keeping, he said, with GSA’s role in helping agencies implement the open data and standardization requirements of the 2014 Digital Accountability and Transparency Act. The D&B data are proprietary, which means they cannot be downloaded by the public unless the company grants the user a license.

“We have partnered with D&B since the 1970s, and this long-standing relationship for data collection has supported responsible award decisions using taxpayer dollars as well as provided insights into federal government spending,” he wrote. “Previously, the data collected could only be used for a narrowly defined ‘acquisition purpose,’ greatly restricting the use of all D&B-related information….Now, D&B information can be used for other activities, like compiling research of historical procurement information and conducting trend analysis.”

Specifically, the new contract eliminates barriers to all agency use of data distributed by the Integrated Award Environment within the government. It avoids a potential long-term cost by eliminating a requirement that D&B-sourced content be removed from government systems in the event that another proprietary firm replaces D&B (a step called permanent retention). And it allows third parties to access and use a subset of the data for commercial purposes.

“There are still some restrictions on the amount of data available for public consumption, but the government’s use of the information is no longer restrained,” Page wrote. “We expect the expansion of these data rights to assist agencies in making better-informed, data-driven decisions as they strive to meet their missions.”

Also on Sept. 29, GSA joined with the Defense Department and NASA in publishing a new rule removing D&B references from the Federal Acquisition Regulation.

The move drew only tepid approval from the Data Coalition, a champion of the DATA Act that continues to 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.

“The modified agreement does not open up the DUNS Number itself - only ancillary data fields, like companies' names and addresses - and came at a notable cost to taxpayers,” the coalition noted in a newsletter. “The new agreement cost GSA $26 million, which was paid to D&B.”

The nonprofit Project on Government Oversight welcomed the new contract, saying it “sets the stage for an improved identifier system down the road, without any extra costs or loss of data.” POGO General Counsel Scott Amey wrote in an Oct. 5 blogpost: “Retention of the data is a huge get for Uncle Sam, and shows goodwill by D&B to allow data to drive public policy improvements both now and in the future. Who knows how much longer we will use proprietary D&B data and DUNS numbers, but at least the government planned ahead to ensure that any future change will not cause a major government disruption or loss of data.”

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