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What Is the Data Reference Model?

By Jo Dunaway
Updated May 16, 2024
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The Data Reference Model (DRM) is written in Extensible Markup Language (XML) in order to create easy sharing of data between incompatible computer systems throughout U.S. federal agencies. It was created in order to comply with a 2002 E-Government Act section, requiring all data input by government agencies to be standardized. It was stipulated that data be described, organized, and categorized in such a way as to make it easy to retrieve information input by any agency. This eliminates the need for each agency to maintain its own separate database containing multiple duplicates of data stored in other agencies' databases. It also allows managers the flexibility to view data needed for decision-making, generated by the specifics of their search queries.

The Federal Enterprise Architecture that hosts the Data Reference Model has four other reference models in use. All of these reference models are constructed in a common operations framework, sharing common syntax and vocabulary to ease information sharing. There are three main standardization areas in the DRM that promote easy retrieval: descriptions of data, categorizations of data with their accompanying contexts, and access and exchange mechanisms for data sharing. These standards help to reduce the possibility of ineffective searches, so that a wealth of quality information can respond to any query. This model of categorization also allows reliable cross-agency data analysis.

Communities of Interest (COI) is a security term in information technology, and in the federal DRM, data are collected from a COI and input into the combined data warehouse from international, federal, state, and local governments for sharing. COIs may also be nongovernmental bodies, institutions, or foundations, both public and private. These security teams, using DRM standards, can share their knowledge with other federal agencies and receive information from the same. When a new COI is added into the DRM system, there are system tools they can use to input data descriptions, contexts, and categories, so that all agencies can understand and include the new data for future queries.

The data being shared, in this Data Reference Model methodology, is data that may have possible relevance and importance to any business being conducted outside a particular agency's responsibilities. In cross-agency business or collaborations, this ready access with easy to use standards allows quick communications and implementations of government business concerns. The U.S. Department of Defense has its own DRM structure, developed prior to the inclusion of a DRM in the Federal Enterprise Architecture as one of five reference models. Other civilian and intelligence communities have also opened up access to data sharing across agency boundary lines using the Data Reference Model.

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