The Standard Application Process

Standard Application Process and Interagency Council on Statistics.
The federal statistical system has adopted a standard application process (SAP) for applying for access to confidential data assets from the nation’s statistical agencies. The SAP marks an important milestone for the federal statistical system. For the first time, primary statistical agencies and units have coordinated and agreed to use the same application for access to their restricted-use data assets. 

Visit the new platform at for information on each agency’s collection of confidential data assets and to begin a new application. 

Applications with the SAP must be for a statistical purpose and will be reviewed by the statistical agency with ownership of the data. Applicants can use the SAP to apply for access to data from multiple agencies for the same project and track the application as it moves through the review process.

For questions about specific programs, datasets, or data files, applicants are asked to contact the data-owning agency or agencies. When an application is approved, the authorizing agency will guide the user through the process of gaining access. Users with questions about existing applications or arrangements for use of restricted-use data should contact the agency directly.

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Background and Overview

For a list of terms used in this Web page, see the Glossary of Terms Related to the Standard Application Process.

The Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018 (Evidence Act) set forth an ambitious goal of creating a standardized process for applying to use federal data—including highly confidential data sets—for evidence-building purposes. Congress had several reasons for making it easier to find and apply for federal data assets—
  • Safely expanding access to and use of data, including administrative data, for evidence building can substantially improve public policies and programs
  • Evidence building is enhanced when data are available to staff at all levels of government, including state and local officials
  • Business and academic communities need timely access to high-quality data to develop insights and analytic tools that benefit citizens, policymakers, and the private sector
"The OMB shall . . . establish a process through which agencies, the Congressional Budget Office, state, local, and tribal governments, researchers, and other individuals may apply to access the data assets accessed or acquired by a statistical agency or unit for purposes of developing evidence.”— P.L. 115-435 Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act of 2018
In December 2022, the Office of Management and Budget fulfilled the requirement of establishing a standard application process with these application procedures.

Roles and Responsibilities

Title III of the Evidence Act makes statistical agencies major actors in expanding access to protected data, but the roles and responsibilities of implementing and governing the SAP are shared across multiple bodies and organizations. Each has a distinct set of roles and responsibilities in implementing, maintaining, and managing the SAP. These actors include

Benefits of the SAP

In the past, the federal statistical system used a decentralized approach to apply for access to federal confidential data assets. Each agency had its own agency-specific application portal or process. There was no standardization across agencies in terms of application forms, determination criteria, or review timeframes. If an individual wanted to apply for access to data assets from two different agencies, they would need to use two different application processes, which could include different application procedures.

The SAP creates a single application portal for applying for access to federal confidential data assets from the nation’s federal statistical agencies and units. It standardizes the application forms, determination criteria, and review timeframes across agencies when applying for access to any federal restricted-use data asset.

By streamlining data discovery and standardizing the application process, the SAP promotes civic engagement, increases transparency, and supports private-sector decision-making, basic research, and policymaking at the federal, state, local, and tribal levels. Applicants are able to

  • Browse a metadata inventory of confidential data assets
  • Determine whether the confidential data asset is appropriate for their use case
  • Track application status/progress and results

The SAP serves as a “single front door” for applying to access to restricted data for evidence-building projects, such as

  • Analysis and evaluation of disparities and inequities in programs and policies
  • Exploration of links between employment services, post-secondary programs, and workforce outcomes
  • Examination of connections between pandemic benefits and extended unemployment

Confidentiality and Privacy

Modernizing privacy protections is a key goal of the Evidence Act and has informed every step of SAP development. Several provisions of the Act preserve and strengthen privacy guardrails, including

  • A requirement that data transparency and privacy experts be included as members of the advisory committee established by the Act

  • Reauthorization of the Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act, which mandates strong confidentiality protections for information collected for statistical purposes by federal agencies

  • A framework to ensure that access to sensitive data is governed by appropriate restricted-access mechanisms and that robust risk assessment processes are applied prior to data release

  • Assurances that data provided by survey respondents will be treated with the utmost confidentiality and privacy and shared only for statistical purposes; using restricted datasets for a statistical purpose means that you may not disclose an individual or establishment that responded to a survey, nor publish information that may allow others to identify respondent-level information

Learning Resources

Visit the Learning Resources page to access informational guides and resources. This section includes resources for prospective and current applicants of confidential data, as well as for agency reviewers.

Annual Reports

The SAP portal completed its first year of full operation in December 2023. Read the SAP Annual Report for 2023 (657 KB) to learn about the accomplishments of Year 1, the planned improvements for 2024, and the long-term goals for the SAP.

Phases of Development

Development of the SAP is a three-phase process, with completion of Phase 2 in 2022. In Phase 3, all SAP stakeholders are encouraged to contribute their ideas for strengthening and expanding use of the SAP. The main goals of each phase are described below.
Timeline of standard application process development and implementation .
Phases of the SAP Development and Implementation Timeline

Phase 1: Development of a pilot portal

  • Pilot portal with metadata inventory for multiple federal statistical agencies
  • Consensus among seven federal statistical agencies on requirements for the portal and the portal functionality
  • Successful portal testing and demonstrations to stakeholders
  • Read the SAP Phase 1 Lessons Learned Report
Glowing futuristic background with lock representing data protection.
SAP Development Is Currently in Phase 2

Phase 2: Policy and technical development, requirements gathering, and metadata inventory implementation

  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Development and testing of SAP application interface
  • Approval and application tracking processes
  • A repository of metadata describing confidential data assets from all 16 federal statistical agencies and units—with sufficient information to identify the contents, characteristics, and quality of individual data assets
  • Fully functional portal with a common application form
  • Read the SAP Phase 2 Lessons Learned Report (310 KB)

Phase 3: The SAP of the Future

  • Continually updated metadata inventory
  • Capacity to add new features
  • Engagement with SAP stakeholders will be ongoing—stay tuned for updates on enhancements, new features, and innovations


For a list of terms related to the standard application process, please visit our Glossary page. 

Frequently Asked Questions

For a list of commonly asked questions related to the standard application process, please visit our FAQ page. 

1The SAP project management office (PMO) serves to standardize project-related governance processes and facilitate sharing of resources, information, and tools between SAP working groups and the portal developers. Its key goal areas are engagement, process improvement, and knowledge management. Long-term, it intends to serve as a center of excellence for the governmentwide development of evidence-building infrastructure. The National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics serves as the PMO for Phase 2 of the SAP.