Federal Use of Standards

AGENCY: Office of Management and Budget, Executive Office of the President.

ACTION: Notice and Request for Comments on Proposed Revision of OMB Circular No. A-119, "Federal Participation in the Development and Use of Voluntary Consensus Standards and in Conformity Assessment Activities."

SUMMARY: The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is revising Circular A-119, "Federal Participation in the Development and Use of Voluntary Consensus Standards and in Conformity Assessment Activities." Public Law 104-113, the National Technology Transfer Act of 1995 (hereinafter known as P.L. 104-113), was passed by Congress to codify existing policies in A-119, to establish additional reporting requirements, and to authorize the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to coordinate conformity assessment activities of the agencies. P.L. 104-113 was signed into law by the President on March 13, 1996. This proposed revision of Circular A-119 implements the new law and makes certain other modifications.

DATES: Comments are requested on the proposed revisions to Circular A-119 no later than (insert date 60 days after date of publication in the FEDERAL REGISTER).

ADDRESSES: Direct written comments to: Information Policy and Technology Branch, Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Office of Management and Budget, NEOB Room 10236, Washington, D.C., 20503. E-mail comments may be sent to:

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Virginia Huth, Information Policy and Technology Branch, Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Office of Management and Budget, Room 10236 NEOB, Washington, D.C., 20503. Telephone: 202-395-3785. The text of this proposed revision and of the current OMB Circular A-119 are available electronically on the OMB Home page in the documents section at The current version of A-119 is available in paper format by contacting the OMB Publications Office at (202) 395-7332. To request a fax of the current A-119, call (202) 395-9068.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Section 12(d) of the National Technology Transfer Act of 1995 (P.L. 104-113, or "the Act") codified the policies of Circular A-119. Section 12(d)(1) states that "Except as provided in paragraph (3) of this subsection, all Federal agencies and departments shall use technical standards that are developed or adopted by voluntary consensus standards bodies, using such technical standards as a means to carry out policy objectives or activities determined by the agencies and departments."

To carry out this requirement, Section 12(d)(2) states that agencies and departments "shall consult" with those bodies and "shall ... participate" with them in developing voluntary consensus standards "when such participation is in the public interest and is compatible with agency and departmental missions, authorities, priorities, and budget resources."

Finally, Section 12(d)(3) states that, where it would be "inconsistent with applicable law or otherwise impractical" to use standards that those bodies develop or adopt, an agency or department may use other standards; however, the head of the agency or department must send to OMB "an explanation of the reasons for using such standards." The law states that, beginning with fiscal year 1997, OMB will transmit to Congress and its Committees an annual report summarizing all explanations received in the preceding year.

This Circular provides instructions, beginning with FY 97, for agencies to report explanations of instances in which agencies used standards which were not developed by voluntary consensus standards bodies. For FY 96, OMB issued a letter on May 17, 1996, to the heads of departments and agencies notifying them of the Act and of the new reporting requirement. For the period March 13, 1996 (date of enactment of the Act) to September 30, 1996, any explanations that agencies have generated should be transmitted to NIST no later than January 31, 1997, for forwarding to OMB.

The Act's legislative history confirms that Section 12(d) was intended to codify the Circular's policies. See 142 Cong. Rec. H1265 (daily ed. February 27, 1996) (statement of Rep. Morella); 142 Cong. Rec. S1080-81 (daily ed. February 7, 1996) (statement of Sen. Rockefeller); 141 Cong. Rec. H14333-34 (daily ed. December 12, 1995) (statements of Reps. Brown and Morella).

Accordingly, the revisions proposed to the Circular are not intended to change the policy with respect to agencies' use of voluntary consensus standards, but instead are intended to conform the Circular's terminology to the Act and to increase the Circular's clarity and effectiveness.


This proposed revision incorporates the following changes:

Accordingly, OMB Circular A-119 is proposed to be revised as set forth below.

Sally Katzen
Office of Information and
Regulatory Affairs


SUBJECT: Federal Participation in the Development and Use of Voluntary Consensus Standards and in Conformity Assessment Activities

  1. Purpose. This Circular establishes policy to be followed by agencies in working with voluntary consensus standards bodies and in using voluntary consensus standards, in accordance with Section 12(d) of the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act (hereinafter cited as P.L. 104-113). It also implements reporting requirements for the use of voluntary consensus standards and addresses the role of the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) in coordinating conformity assessment activities.

  2. Rescissions. This Circular supersedes OMB Circular No. A-119, dated October 20, 1993, which is rescinded.

  3. Background. Many standards that are developed by voluntary consensus standards bodies are appropriate or adaptable for the Government's purposes. The adoption of such standards, whenever practicable and appropriate, eliminates the cost to the Government of developing its own standards. At the same time, Government participation in standards-related activities provides incentives and opportunities to establish standards that serve national needs. Moreover, harmonization of standards promotes efficiency and economic competition, thus encouraging long-term growth for U.S. enterprises. Adoption of standards developed by voluntary consensus standards bodies also furthers the policy of reliance upon the private sector to supply Government needs for goods and services, as stated in OMB Circular No. A-76, "Performance of Commercial Activities."

  4. Applicability. This Circular applies to all agency participation in voluntary consensus standards activities, domestic and international, but not to activities carried out pursuant to treaties and international standardization agreements.

  5. Definitions. As used in this Circular:

  6. Use and Development of Voluntary Consensus Standards.

  7. Guidelines. In implementing the policy established by this Circular, agencies should recognize the positive contribution of standards development and related activities. When properly conducted, standards development can increase productivity and efficiency in Government and industry, expand opportunities for international trade, conserve resources, improve health and safety, and protect the environment. It also must be recognized, however, that these activities, if improperly conducted, can suppress free and fair competition; impede innovation and technical progress; exclude safer and less expensive products; or otherwise adversely affect trade, commerce, health, or safety. Full account in carrying out this policy shall be taken of the impact on the economy, applicable Federal laws, policies, and national objectives, including, for example, laws and regulations relating to antitrust, national security, small business, product safety, environment, metrication, technological development, and conflicts of interest. The following guidelines are provided to assist and govern the agencies' use of, and participation in the development and adoption of, voluntary consensus standards.

  8. Procedures.

  9. Responsibilities.

  10. Reporting Requirements.

  11. Conformity Assessment. Section 12(b) of P.L. 104-113 requires NIST to coordinate Federal, State, and local standards activities and conformity assessment activities with private sector standards activities and conformity assessment activities, with the goal of eliminating unnecessary duplication and complexity in the development and promulgation of conformity assessment requirements and measures. To ensure effective coordination, NIST shall issue guidance to the agencies.

  12. Policy Review. This Circular shall be reviewed for effectiveness by the OMB three years from the date of issuance.

  13. Inquiries. For information concerning this Circular, contact the Office of Management and Budget, Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs: Telephone 202/395-3785.

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