Data Standards FAQs


What is a data standard?
A “data standard” is a documented agreement among Exchange Network Partners that share or exchange data. A data standard includes data elements, data element definitions, notes, formats, and XML tags.

How does a data standard relate to a schema- or program-specific implementation?
Data standards, represent the foundation for Exchange Network XML schema development. It is assumed that the data element names, definitions, and groupings defined within data standards will be used as needed to develop data exchange templates for each particular programmatic exchange. Data providers would ensure that the proper mappings are complete and use the appropriate schema to build the exchange file.

Who developed these data standards?
The Exchange Network Leadership Council develops and maintains environmental data standards for the Network. The ENLC-approved Exchange Network Data Standards are available here.

Why do we need this common vocabulary?
There are many different environmental programs, and many different government agencies involved in reporting environmental-related data. Often, these different programs or different agencies use different naming conventions and codes when identifying the same data. A common vocabulary makes it possible to share and integrate this information.

What is the relationship between these data standards and Shared Schema Components (SSC)?
The Exchange Network Shared Schema Components provide groupings of related data elements and data blocks to more fully describe business areas, functions, and entities where Partners have an environmental interest. The SSC are reusable XML schema that organize related data elements common to multiple environmental data flows. They incorporate these data standards for data element groupings, data element names, and definitions; and facilitate the creation of XML schema.

Implementation of the Data Standards

Will agencies or programs be required to use these data standards?
Federal, State, Tribal, Territorial, and local government agencies or programs are not required to adopt or use these data standards, or incorporate them into their data systems. Their use is required, however, to exchange data via the Exchange Network.

Must an agency use all the data elements to be in conformance with the data standard?
No. Agencies can use only those data groupings or data elements that for which they have a business need.

If an agency or program implemented these data standards, must it begin collecting information for all data elements?
The data standards provide a range of data elements that may be of interest to programs and agencies. Programs or agencies may collect information for one or more of the data elements. There is no requirement to collect information for all data elements.

If an agency does not use the same data elements that are used in these data standards, is there an expectation that the agency must change its data elements?
No. The data standard uses terminology intended for data exchange and is applicable only after the data is sent outside the agency via the Network.

If an EPA program changes the data elements they collect, is there an expectation that agencies that send data to this program must change their data elements?
Data standards are intended for use in data exchange. EPA programs may, as necessary, modify the data elements that they currently collect to correspond to the data elements and terms in these data standards. It is usually more cost effective to adapt systems in the proper phase of the life-cycle to data standards than to maintain mappings. EPA approves internal business rules to govern the use of data standards. Waivers to data standards are sometimes issued in consideration of modernization and update schedules.

If the data standards do not contain data elements an agency is required to report to EPA, how should this be addressed?
The approved data standards are meant to be as complete as possible, however, there may be elements that are not covered.

Are these data standards the basis for a new data system design that agencies data systems will be required to conform to?
No. These data standards are more like a dictionary to help translate or exchange data from any one data system to any other. Use of these data standards does not require any non-EPA agency or program to change its current data system. EPA will incorporate the data standard as its own data systems are modified and updated.

Is funding available to help States, Tribes, Territories, and local government agencies that implement Federal programs update their systems to use these data standards?
EPA provides grant funding to assist agencies that implement Federal environmental programs. Such assistance has often been used by grantees to help develop and update data management systems.

Use of the Data Standards

Who will use these data standards?
All Partners that exchange environmental information are encouraged to use these data standards when they share data with other Partners. They are also encouraged to use them as when planning to update or enhance their existing data systems.

When planning to update a data system, how can using these data standards be helpful
These data standards provide information on naming conventions and relationships. When agencies update their systems to conform with these data standard, data exchange with other systems that manage environmental data becomes streamlined.

Will EPA issue rules for use of these data standards?
No. EPA develops business rules for their internal use and incorporates these data standards as appropriate within its systems.

Why have the data standards been “modularized?”
Modularization is the creation of groupings of like data elements within the standard. An “address” grouping, for example, would have data elements for street number, street name, city, state, postal code, and if needed, country code. The grouping can be used wherever address information is needed. The groupings can be extracted from the data standard used and reused as needed in various configurations. This reuse creates an economy of design effort and ensures conformity to data standards.

Are there permitted values for the “code list identifier” wherever it is used?
Permitted values are identified in schema, flow configuration documents, or trading partner agreements.

If data have been collected using multiple “identifier contexts” for a particular identifier or using multiple “code lists” for a code, who maintains the official mappings so that the data may be cross-tabulated?
Trading Partners document and maintain official mappings between identifier contexts and code lists for the identifiers and code lists they exchange. To ensure maximum reuse and comprehension for secondary users, Partners should use a documented or, if available, an officially recognized code list identifier for each code set used.

Maintenance of the Data Standards

Will these data standards be open for revision in the future, and if so, how?
Yes. Adjustments and revisions will likely be necessary in the future as new or existing programs or agencies determine the need to exchange additional data elements not provided in the current data standard. A call for a revision of a standard can come to the ENLC from subject area experts or from data standards experts. The process is presented in the Data Standards Life-Cycle Process.