Agencies Can Start Prepping Systems for DUNS Transition


The government will need to prepare for next year’s transition or risk the federal contracting version of Y2K.

The federal government is transitioning to a new unique entity identifier to track all vendors and organizations doing business with the government. The General Services Administration, which manages the system, released technical specifications for the two central APIs used to access the unique ID databases, kicking off the transition process for the rest of government.

For federal agencies that use the current ID numbers—read: all agencies—that will mean ensuring their systems are able to process the new ID format before the transition is complete at the end of 2020.

The government, through a contract with GSA, has relied on proprietary identifiers maintained by Dun & Bradstreet since 1962. The Data Universal Numbering System, or DUNS, number was officially codified in the Federal Acquisition Regulation in 1998, but last year GSA started the process of bidding the contract for the first time in 20 years.

GSA announced in March that Ernst & Young would be taking over the process and replacing the DUNS number with new Unique Entity ID, with the transition set to take place before the end of 2020.

GSA released two sets of technical specifications for the new IDs, covering data schemas for’s Entity Management API, which automates data transfers regarding organizations with Unique IDs, and the Exclusions API, which accesses the database of organizations that are restricted from doing business with the government.

A whole new format will mean all the systems tuned to use the DUNS number will not be able to recognize the structure for Unique IDs. While DUNS numbers consist of nine numeric digits, the new Unique IDs will be a 12-digit mix of numbers and letters. This past summer, GSA released the framework for the new IDs; now, agencies will get a look at how the new numbers will function with GSA’s systems.

Much like Y2K required institutions around the world to recode systems to recognize dates beyond Dec. 31, 1999, the DUNS transition will require reprogramming systems to use both identifiers or risk widespread crashes.

“Many systems outside of the GSA interface with award data and information, including UEI data,” the transition management team wrote in a post on GSA’s Interact site. “To help our partners across the federal government and the public, we have published the first and second set of UEI/EVS specifications.”

In the Interact post, GSA noted the Entity Management Web Services, RESTful API and Exclusions Search Web Services on the legacy site will not be updated, as the agency expects users to be migrated to the new site by the time the transition is complete.

By Dec. 30, GSA plans to release its testing plan, which will include the next set of specifications. Once that plan and set of specs are out, agencies “technical teams can finalize their plans to accommodate these interface changes and begin the development required to test with” the Integrated Award Environment, GSA officials said.