What is Interoperability?

Interoperability refers to the ability of two or more systems or components to exchange information and to use the information to make better decisions. The term is often used in a technical engineering sense and also in a broader sense, taking into account social, political, and organizational factors that impact performance.

Too many barriers stand in the way of clients getting the services they need. “Interoperability”—a national effort of technological and programmatic coordination—is poised to eliminate many of those barriers. Today, the emergence of “interoperable technology” offers an unprecedented opportunity to connect systems across traditional boundaries in exciting and rewarding ways. This interconnectivity represents the cutting edge for development of new service models and approaches to maximize positive outcomes for children, families and communities.

This web site consists of news containing the latest information about data sharing and interoperability at the Administration for Children and Families (ACF); interoperability initiative resources; information about the National Information Exchange Model (NIEM) and the Human Services (HS) domain, and a repository of HS domain Information Exchange Packet Documentation (IEPD) files.

Things You Should Know

ACF Interoperability Action Plan

ACF has long recognized that enhanced interoperability for effective and efficient data sharing is necessary to attain large-scale operational efficiencies and to improve outcomes for those we serve. In response to this critical need, ACF has developed an Interoperability Action Plan to better coordinate and guide data improvement efforts across the agency.

ACF will actively work to implement and expand information sharing across programs and levels of government in a manner that:

  • meets human services business needs
  • minimizes cost and complexity
  • maximizes reuse of promising practices, and;
  • complies with all applicable laws and regulations.

To learn more, please see the Interoperability Action Plan Executive Summary [PDF] (PDF) or contact us at

NIEM Human Services Domain Workgroup

NIEM Human Services (HS) Domain Workgroup was established in early 2015 to provide a combination of programmatic, policy, business, and technical expertise in creating standardized data exchanges for the HS domain by adopting the National Information Exchange Model (NIEM). The collaborative workgroup, overseen and coordinated by the Administration for Children and Families, consists of federal, state, local and non-profit organization representatives. Examples of topics that were shared in the workgroup include but are not limited to: HS domain data modeling and data governance; privacy/confidentiality in data exchange; data harmonization; business modeling using UML to simplify data exchange implementation; and support various federal and state data exchange projects.

Interested in joining the workgroup? Contact the ACF interoperability team at

ACF Expands and Formalizes Efforts on Data

The Division of Data and Improvement (DDI) in ACF’s Office of Planning, Research & Evaluation oversees ACF’s Interoperability Initiative, as well as other agency efforts, to promote the quality, sharing, use, and analysis of data for program improvement.

DDI serves as ACF’s coordination point on all things related to administrative data and interoperability, with DDI staff providing support to ACF program offices and their stakeholders at all levels. DDI’s work falls into three broad areas:

  • Developing Interoperable Data Systems – Includes the National Information Exchange Model, the National Human Services Interoperability Architecture, the Confidentiality Toolkit, and related interoperability efforts.
  • Improving Data Quality and Program Integrity – Includes the Advance Planning Documents Process State Systems Coordinator and the Public Assistance Reporting Information System.
  • Using Data to Build Evidence and Improve Programs – Includes efforts to support the use of administrative data for research, as well as to improve programs and services, including enhanced data visualizations, individualized technical assistance, and continuous quality improvement.

DDI recently authored an article for APHSA Policy & Practice Magazine. ReImagining Data at ACF [PDF] (PDF) describes the planned approach to “Reimagine” how we use, share, and analyze data at ACF and across the human services field.

For questions about the Division of Data and Improvement, please contact its Director, Bethanne Barnes via email at

NIEM Human Services Domain IEPD Repository is Online

ACF has developed several specifications to facilitate more rapid adoption of data exchange capabilities. Please visit the IEPD repository to learn more. Some recent examples include:

  • ICWA e-Notice IEPD
  • Model Tribal System IEPD
  • National Youth in Transition Database (NYTD) IEPD
  • North Carolina Families Accessing Services through Technology (NC FAST) IEPD
  • Public Assistance Reporting Information System (PARIS) IEPD

Enhanced Eligibility and Enrollment A-87 Waiver

Federal effort continue at CMS, ACF, and USDA/FNS in working with states to make use of the A-87 waiver authorities which are described in this July 20, 2015 Tri-Agency Letter on Detail of Cost Allocation Waiver Visit disclaimer page (PDF) to OMB Circular A-87 (Section C.3) and describes the one-time extension through December 31, 2018. Guidance is provided on how states may take advantage of the exception and the extended timeframe to leverage investments to better serve consumers and multiple programs’ needs. View other Medicaid/CHIP policy guidance Visit disclaimer page.

Cost Allocation Methodology Toolkit (Version 3)

The Cost Allocation Methodology (CAM) Toolkit is a consistent and objective cost allocation methodology which can be used by Federal, State and local agencies. The CAM serves as a “safe harbor” for states that must perform equitable cost allocation of software development costs under an approved Advance Planning Document (APD). Version #3 of the Toolkit natively supports Microsoft Office Excel 2010 and provides usability improvements.

Interoperability Initiative Resources

National Human Services Interoperability Architecture (NHSIA)

The National Human Services Interoperability Architecture (NHSIA) proposes a framework to facilitate information sharing, improve service delivery, prevent fraud, and provide better outcomes for children and families. For further information, contact the ACF interoperability team at

Interoperability Toolkit

A compendium of interoperability documents is designed to help state human services agencies connect with their health counterparts and maximize Affordable Care Act benefits.

Program Instruction ACF-OA-PI-13-01

ACF-OA-PI-13-01 (PDF) describes the waiver process for the use of federal funding to acquire proprietary program-specific applications using Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) software products in human services programs.

ACF Confidentiality Toolkit - August 19, 2014

ACF announces publication of the ACF Confidentiality Toolkit.

The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) developed this ACF Confidentiality Toolkit (PDF) to help jurisdictions successfully navigate the delicate balance between privacy and security with the delivery of efficient and effective services. The ACF Confidentiality Toolkit analyzes, explains and aids states and local jurisdictions in the navigation of a number of federal laws that impact the implementation of human services. Embedded throughout are sample documents from across the country from which jurisdictions using the Toolkit can borrow freely.

Guidance on Funding and Cost Allocation

The guidance on funding and cost allocation is a list of resources related to cost allocation in health and human services systems.

The Affordable Care Act and Child Support

A presentation for the 2013 NCSEA Policy Forum in Washington, DC on the opportunities available to states developing eligibility and enrollment systems under the Affordable Care Act exception to OMB cost-allocation requirements. View the presentation (PDF).

Cost Allocation Methodology Toolkit

The Cost Allocation Methodology (CAM) Toolkit is a cost allocation modelling tool available to Federal, State, and local agencies. The purpose of the Toolkit is to model a simple, consistent and objective cost allocation methodology that serves as a “safe harbor” for States that must perform equitable cost allocation of software development costs to federal and state benefiting programs under an approved Advance Planning Document (APD). Current version #3 of the Toolkit natively supports Microsoft Office Excel 2010 and provides usability improvements.

State Systems Interoperability and Integration Project Grants - July 09, 2014

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Partnership Fund for Program Integrity Innovation provided the Department of Health and Human Services/Administration for Children and Families (HHS/ACF) funding for the State Systems Interoperability and Integration Projects (S2I2).  These planning grants funded 12-month-long projects in seven states to explore and plan improved interoperability and integration in eligibility and enrollment, case management, and other related functions to help streamline administration processes and strengthen program integrity in federal assistance programs across health and human services information technology systems. Grants were awarded to the states of California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, New York, and Oklahoma.

  • California promoted the understanding of interoperability statewide and developed an integrated Governance Model

  • Colorado built a Client Information Sharing System that facilitates collaboration and data sharing across their Department of Human Services and six other domains.

  • Illinois developed a sustainable Governance Model for the Healthcare and Human Services Framework.

  • Indiana worked to automate and improve the state’s Vital Events Registry information, collection, and data sharing.

  • Maryland defined interoperability and its impact on client outcomes at the practice level “Life of the Case” Workflow Analysis Model, and Return on Investment Models and Calculator.

  • New York developed the Children’s Passport, an online reporting portal that captures data from multiple data sources.

  • Oklahoma built a roadmap that will help redesign the Eligibility and Enrollment system, integrate Service-Oriented Architecture, and expand the Enterprise Service Bus.

NIEM Human Services Domain Resources

National Information Exchange Model (NIEM)

NIEM – the National Information Exchange Model Visit disclaimer page – is a community-driven, government-wide, standards-based approach to exchanging information. Today's challenges and opportunities cut across various sectors and organizations, often requiring collaboration between governments and industry. NIEM ensures that information is well-understood and carries the same consistent meaning across various communities, allowing interoperability to occur. NIEM brings together diverse communities that collectively leverage tools, processes, and technologies to increase efficiencies and improve decision-making.

NIEM Human Services Domain

The NIEM Human Services (HS) domain Visit disclaimer page was officially established by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and recognized by the NIEM Executive Steering Council in March 2012. Effective information sharing is critical to the success of a coordinated HS system. The NIEM HS domain supports information sharing and promotes interoperability between and across social service providers at the federal, state, local, and tribal levels. Standardized data and information exchanges help fulfill these human services goals: improved service delivery for clients; reduced errors and improved program integrity; and improved administrative efficiency. The NIEM HS domain leverages the NIEM tools and processes which serve as reusable resources for new exchange development efforts so that content can be modeled in an agile and interoperable manner. Presently, the Administration of Children and Families (ACF) of DHHS serves as the NIEM HS Domain Steward.

NIEM Human Services Domain Charter

The NIEM Human Services Domain Charter (PDF) is a brief document that summaries the essential information for a project team, including: NIEM overview; ACF role as the NIEM HS Domain Steward; NIEM HS domain purpose, functions, goals, and expected outcomes; NIEM HS domain governance; NIEM HS domain performance measure. The objective of the charter is to assist ACF and the human services field in the operations of the domain.

NIEM Human Services Domain Operations and Maintenance Plan

The NIEM Human Services Domain Operations and Maintenance (O&M) Plan (PDF) describes the processes and procedures for managing and executing domain activities. Additionally, the plan addresses the infrastructure and tools that are used to support these activities. The intended audience for this document is the NIEM HS domain’s stakeholders and governance groups as defined in the NIEM Human Services Domain Charter. The potential audience includes program managers and government sponsors from human services agencies, as well as any participants wanting to leverage the NIEM HS Domain. The O&M plan should be referenced alongside the charter.

NIEM Human Services Domain Process Document

The NIEM Human Services Domain Process Document  (PDF)provides a compendium of requirements, processes, and best practices in the development and maintenance of NIEM-compliant content for Human Services data exchanges. The objectives of the document are to provide the Human Services community with a single, standardized methodology for NIEM-related activities. This document leverages processes and requirements already in place in the NIEM community, as created by the NIEM Project Management Office, including the NIEM Business Architecture Committee (NBAC) and the NIEM Technical Architecture Committee (NTAC). It also establishes additional practices specifically for the Human Services Domain.

Human Services Domain Data Harmonization Procedures

The Human Services Data Harmonization Procedures  (PDF)is a document that details the process to standardize the attributes of data elements selected for use in HS Domain for inclusion in the Data Standards Registry (DSR). Standardizing data elements reduces ambiguity and provides consistency. Data harmonization is the first step in the process of developing data standards. The data harmonization process begins by taking an inventory of all current data assets within the Human Services community and prepares the data elements to be administered.

Human Services Domain Data Element Naming Conventions and Controlled Vocabulary

The Human Services Domain Data Element Naming Conventions and Controlled Vocabulary (PDF) detail the process of creating standardized data element names and definitions for use in HS Domain and for inclusion in the Data Standards Registry (DSR). Standardizing data element names and definitions reduces ambiguity and provides context for reuse of data elements. The Data Element Naming Conventions and Controlled Vocabulary is a guide for subject matter experts (SMEs) during the naming process of new data elements for data exchanges.

Human Services Domain Data Definition Guidelines

The Human Services Domain Data Definition Guidelines  (PDF)establishes a set of guidelines for creating data definitions for data elements within the HS Domain. Establishing these guidelines supports the HS Domain strategic plan for timely and accurate data exchanges. Data definitions define data elements in a non-technical way that is clear to both technical and business users. A good data definition indicates the purpose of the data element and when or where it is used. Well-defined data has a positive impact on organizations productivity, development costs and data quality.

NIEM Information Exchange Package Documentation for Human Services

Sharing data within the HS community is crucial to the success of their programs. There are numerous opportunities to share data: from eligibility, to payments, to program performance. To begin exchanging information, information exchange partners must first develop a data exchange. An Information Exchange Package Documentation (IEPD) is the final product of the NIEM data exchange development process, also known as the IEPD lifecycle. Both business and technical artifacts that define the information exchange taking place between the partners are to be included in an IEPD. Go to the HS domain IEPD repository to learn more.

Completed IEPDs
In-Process IEPDs

For more information, contact the ACF interoperability team at

Current as of: