S1:E7 We’ve Been Dun In

15 JUL 2020

Show Notes / Script

I’ve got a deal for you. You pay me $10,000 and I’ll sell you public data the government requires?

Podcast

YouTube

Script

I’ve got a deal for you. You pay me $10,000 and I’ll sell you public data the government requires?

By the way, that’s only for the first 40,000 lookups. And… Likely an annual fee too. The conversation lasted 19 minutes. Thankfully, the chat started with talk of barbecue and ended with tidings for the seasonal celebration of our Declaration of Independence and Red-White-And-Blue American Values. Which apparently, also includes selling what-should-be public data. Lovely.

My trajectory with our weekly visits targets various means of preventing corruption and of detecting corruption. As a storyteller, I bring true crime stories – or almost crimes. Shady land deals and the like. I am not a wide-eye school child surprised at the crime around me – around us all. Saddened, disappointed, and frustrated because it doesn’t feel like we are even trying.

Trying and failing is progress – science, writing, music, athletics all involve the courage to try and the acceptance of landing on one’s tuchus. A bit of chutzpah keeps us moving forward, doesn’t it?

The United States Federal Government asked that entities who will or have received funds from the $2.2T CARES Act must have a DUNS number. Awesome sales deal done by Dun and Bradstreet in the early 1960s.

Data Universal Numbering Systems (DUNS)

The Data Universal Numbering System or DUNS is a unique numeric identifier assigned to a business entity, governmental entity, and even individuals who are in business as solo practitioners. D&B got their proprietary system adopted by the U.S. government, the European Commission, the Australian government, and the United Nations. According to Wikipedia, there are 300 million entities registered with the mandatory service.

Mandatory services… right, if an organization (public or private) received funds from the US government then they must have a DUNS number. Clearly, there are exceptions like those pallets of cash we flew into Iraq in the back of military cargo jets.

 I did get to enjoy a Royal Lemonade with investigators in Kuwait. I was outbound from Iraq and they were inbound. Their mission involved finding $11 million in 20-dollar bills. Apparently, we lost a pallet of cash in a war zone? How could that happen? Likely no DUNS number required on that transaction.

Royal Lemonade with Mint

Royal Lemonade

Fresh Squeeze Lemons
Lemon Zest
Sugar (and/or honey, if you'd like)
Fresh Mint
Cold Water
Ice
Shake, mangle, mutilate strain, serve over ice, garnish with lemon slide and mint

The deals that are the up-and-up, those are the ones that require DUNS numbers.

Our firm, a software development company that helps governmental entities manage grants, is tasked with supporting two states on two federal grant programs. One from FEMA and one from HUD – Housing and Urban Development.

Both are funded by the CARES Act. In both cases, the federal granting agency requires DUNS numbers of their applicants.

We electronically pull data from FEMA. Their DUNS data is junk. The numbers vary in length from six digits to thirteen – all DUNS numbers are 9 digits.

With the HUD data, we ask the user to provide it.

Fraud Prevention

What if we used our software to confirm that the DUNS number matches the name of the organization? What if we confirmed that the addresses matched? That would be a big step towards preventing fraud.

Slate Rock and Gravel

Slate Rock & Gravel Company

Slate Rock and Gravel Company of Bedrock applies for a CARES act grant. They provide their DUNS number. And with the wizardry of software, we independently confirm with a reputed third-party that the company and location match.

This is one baby step. It forms part of a defensive perimeter. Just one lonely sentinel on the perimeter.

It took us 15 minutes to write the code to confirm DUNS number, name, and address with D&B. I can’t say child’s play. We know how to write software and pull data from places. D&B provided us with a sandbox to play in and test with. We immediately asked for access to the production data – the real stuff.

We encountered great human being and amazingly helpful people at D&B. Heck, only lady was named Love (Louvina). How can you go wrong with that!

When the bosses got on the phone to discuss the deal they talked liked cars sales people – fast and in slang. Well its 10K for 40. Or did he say, its 10 for 40K. And if you need more than 40,000 the price goes down. It works out to about $0.25 per search. It took my attentive and intelligent business partner to text me: They are saying it is 10,000 dollars for the first look and it goes up from there.

Oh?

They (D&B) management banged on about the market research capabilities and the benefits to us.

Seriously? I promise, I will never look at that stuff. I don’t have time. I don’t care. My mission is simple. Use government provided information, validate it the best we can, and help screen some of the worst offenders out of the process.

It’s another of those half-conceived measures. By using D&B, the government is off-loading the process of validating entities with whom the government does business. A little credit check, a bit of research to confirm the basic profile information.

There is an efficiency there. D&B behaves a tiny bit like a government contractor. The data is required by the government.

BUT these data are private enough that the government must pay to get it.

What?

The government requires entities who wish to receive federal funds to get a DUNS number, but when that government wants that data, it must pay $10,000 for the first row of data.

Data for sale. Get your data here. Government data for sale. So much for that sentry and that part of our perimeter. Here’s a hint, if you are going to make up a DUNS number, use 9 digits. My favorite is 112358132 (Fibonacci series). My second favorite is: 314159265 (pi)