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Data Standards

Learn About Data Standards

The federal government requires use of consensus-based standards approved by international and national standards groups whenever they are available and appropriate to be used. EPA has adopted some existing consensus standards and has created some others; these must be used where applicable unless a waiver is received. The Office of Environmental Information (OEI) provides assistance and leadership in creating and adopting Agency and/or Exchange Network Exit standards.

What are data standards?

Data standards are documented agreements on representation, format, definition, structuring, tagging, transmission, manipulation, use, and management of data. EPA data standards are a means to promote the efficient sharing of environmental information among US EPA, states, tribes, local governments, the private sector, and other information trading partners.

What are the benefits of data standards?

The benefits of EPA’s data standards are those applicable to any standard:

  • They are developed by subject matter experts coming to consensus on how to solve business problems – so it represents the “best” solution
  • They are harder to develop than non-standards, but are more economical in the long term because you can use the same code or presentation and publishing mechanisms to provide access to information
  • They enable transparency and understanding: use of standards promotes common, clear meanings for data that is often reused
  • They enable access: the same well understood terms, codes, and data structures can be used for data retrieval
  • They encourage and enable reuse of data and software for multiple purposes
  • Mappings to standards allow comparisons even when data isn’t standardized
  • They provide consistent results during data retrieval

Standards also promote quality; EPA's goal is high-quality information delivered in an efficient way to the people who need it.

How do data standards contribute to quality information?

Data standards are a very important part of improving data quality for better decision making in EPA’s environmental management programs and those of its partners:

  • The use of data standards enables reusability of data elements and their metadata that can reduce redundancy between systems, thereby improving reliability and often reducing cost
  • Data standards ensure consistency in code set use by providing for the maintenance and management of permissible code sets

Policies and procedures

EPA's Data Standards Policy establishes principles, responsibilities, and requirements for the development, maintenance, and implementation of data standards within the EPA's jurisdiction. This policy and related procedures support EPA’s enterprise architecture and Quality System for Environmental Data and Technology by underscoring EPA’s commitment to improving data quality and promoting data interoperability, exchanges, sharing, and the ability to use data in diverse situations.

Frequent questions

You can browse frequent questions about data standards here.

Fact sheets