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Standard Application Process

(ResearchDataGov)

The federal statistical system is currently developing a standard application process (SAP) for applying for access to confidential data assets. When fully built, the SAP will serve as a “front door” to apply for permission to use protected data from any of the 16 federal statistical agencies and units for evidence building. In the following paragraphs, you will find important information about the SAP and how to participate in the development of this important evidence-building effort. For a list of terms used in this Web page, see the Glossary of Terms Related to the Standard Application Process.

Background and Overview

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

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. These include
Each has a distinct set of roles and responsibilities in implementing, maintaining, and managing the SAP.

Benefits of the SAP

Currently, the federal statistical system uses a decentralized approach to apply for access to federal confidential data assets. Each agency has its own agency-specific application portal. There is no standardization across agencies in terms of application forms, determination criteria, or review timeframes. If an individual would like to apply for access to data assets from two different agencies, they would need to use two different application portals, which could include different application procedures.

When fully implemented, the SAP will create a single application portal for applying for access to federal confidential data assets from all federal statistical agencies and units. The SAP 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 will promote civic engagement, increase transparency, and support private-sector decision-making, basic research, and policymaking at the federal, state, local, and tribal levels. Applicants will be 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 with high public interest, 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 informs 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 Security 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

Phases of Development

Development of the SAP is a three-phase process, with expected completion of Phase 2 in 2022.
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
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

Phase 3: The SAP of the Future

  • Continually updated metadata inventory
  • Links to agency websites that provide authoritative documentation for each data asset
  • Capacity to add new features
  • Engagement with SAP stakeholders will be ongoing—stay tuned for updates on enhancements, new features, and innovations

How to Get Involved

Stakeholder feedback is invaluable for creating a 21st century data portal. That’s why Congress asked the public to be involved in developing this unique tool. Make sure you have a voice in building a data portal for today’s needs. Here’s how to get involved:
  • Become an SAP Stakeholder
    • Visit the updated portal with metadata from all 16 federal statistical agencies and units
    • Communicate about the SAP to evidence users in your networks
    • Subscribe to the SAP listserv to receive e-blasts with the latest updates on the SAP rollout, requirements gathering, testing, or other feedback opportunities
      • To subscribe, send an e-mail to listserv@listserv.nsf.gov
      • The text of the email must be in this format: subscribe [listname] [subscriber's name]; for example: subscribe SINGLEPORTAL Joe Smith
    • Email your insights or questions on the SAP to singleportal@nsf.gov
  • Schedule a presentation about the SAP for your organization

Glossary

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.