Federal Spending Watchdog Pulls the Plug on DUNS

Late last month,, the online data repository tracking the billions of federal dollars spent on the economic stimulus and Hurricane Sandy recovery, posted this ominous message:

The Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board will sunset on September 30, 2015 and has decided for its last year not to renew the licensing agreement that allows for the display of certain recipient-related data. As of October 1, 2014, maps, charts, and graphs on the site will no longer reflect this information. This change will also include the removal of the recipient profiles as well as the cumulative national download file.

The Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board—a.k.a. the RAT Board, the agency overseeing stimulus and Hurricane Sandy spending—is not renewing its contract with Dun & Bradstreet (D&B) to use the company’s Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS). The DUNS is used to identify business entities that receive federal funds. As a result, beginning in October, the public will lose access to a wealth of government spending information compiled over the last five years. The government pays D&B about $19 million per year for both the DUNS licensing fee and other business information services.

The RAT Board explained to the Project On Government Oversight that it decided not to renew the contract because it was “too expensive” and “no longer a good use of taxpayer money.”

Others, however, think the loss of transparency outweighs the economic savings. “My opinion is that the American taxpayers deserve to see, in the most transparent way possible, where their $840 billion dollars were spent up to the last second of the Board’s existence,” former RAT Board Chairman Earl Devaney told POGO.

Two years ago, we pointed out the government’s difficult position with regard to the DUNS. Federal regulations and directives require all contractors, grantees, and other entities seeking federal funds to acquire a nine-digit DUNS number. This effectively gives D&B a monopoly. Furthermore, the licensing agreement gives D&B control over how the government uses DUNS data.

For the past several years, the government has been looking into alternative ways to uniquely identify fund recipients but is finding it difficult to break away from the DUNS given its ubiquity. Once again, the government has painted itself into a corner with its reliance on contractors.

In the meantime, you have just three weeks to enjoy the maps, charts, and graphs on before they get pulled.