Circular NO. A-119

October 20, 1993


SUBJECT: Federal Participation in the Development and Use of Voluntary Standards

1. Purpose
2. Rescissions
3. Background
4. Applicability
5. Definitions
6. Policy
7. Policy Guidelines
8. Responsibilities
9. Reporting Requirements
10. Policy Review
11. Inquiries

1. Purpose. This Circular establishes policy to be followed by executive agencies in working with voluntary standards bodies. It also establishes policy to be followed by executive branch agencies in adopting and using voluntary standards.

2. Rescissions. This Circular supersedes OMB Circular No. A-119, dated October 26, 1982, which is rescinded.

3. Background. Government functions often involve products or services that must meet reliable standards. Many such standards, appropriate or adaptable for the Government's purposes, are available from private voluntary standards bodies. Government participation in the standards-related activities of these voluntary bodies provides incentives and opportunities to establish standards that serve national needs, and the adoption of voluntary standards, whenever practicable and appropriate, eliminates the cost to the Government of developing its own standards. Adoption of voluntary standards also furthers the policy of reliance upon the private sector to supply Government needs for goods and services, as enunciated in OMB Circular No. A-76, "Performance of Commercial Activities."

4. Applicability. This Circular applies to all Executive agency participation in voluntary 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:

a. Executive agency (hereinafter referred to as "agency") means any executive department, independent commission, board, bureau, office, agency, Government-owned or controlled corporation or other establishment of the Federal Government, including regulatory commission or board. It does not include the legislative or judicial branches of the Federal Government.

b. Standard means a prescribed set of rules, conditions, or requirements concerned with the definition of terms; classification of components; delineation of procedures, specification of dimensions, materials, performance, design, or operations; measurement of quality and quantity in describing materials, products, systems, services, or practices; or descriptions of fit and measurement of size.

c. Voluntary Standards are established generally by private sector bodies, both domestic and international, and are available for use by any person or organization, private or governmental. The term includes what are commonly referred to as "industry standards" as well as "consensus standards", but does not include professional standards of personal conduct, institutional codes of ethics, private standards of individual firms, or standards mandated by law, such as those contained in the United States Pharmacopeia and the National Formulary, as referenced in 21 U.S.C 351.

d. Government Standards include individual agency standards and specifications as well as Federal and Military standards and specifications.

e. Voluntary standards bodies are private sector domestic or international organizations -- such as nonprofit organizations, industry associations, professional and technical societies, institutes, or groups, and recognized test laboratories -- that plan, develop, establish, or coordinate voluntary standards.

f. Standards-developing groups are committees, boards, or any other principal subdivisions of voluntary standards bodies, established by such bodies for the purpose of developing, revising, or reviewing standards, and which are bound by the procedures of those bodies.

g. Adoption means the use of the latest edition of a voluntary standard in whole, in part, or by reference for procurement purposes and the inclusion of the latest edition of a voluntary standard in whole, in part, or by reference in regulation(s).

h. Secretary means the Secretary of Commerce or that Secretary's designee.

6. Policy. It is the policy of the Federal Government in its procurement and regulatory activities to:

a. Rely on voluntary standards, both domestic and international, whenever feasible and consistent with law and regulation pursuant to law;

b. Participate in voluntary standards bodies when such participation is in the public interest and is compatible with agencies' missions, authorities, priorities, and budget resources; and

c. Coordinate agency participation in voluntary standards bodies so that (1) the most effective use is made of agency resources and representatives; and (2) the views expressed by such representatives are in the public interest and, as a minimum, do not conflict with the interests and established views of the agencies.

7. Policy 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 promote the concepts of pollution prevention and the use of recycled content materials. 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. It should also be noted, however, that the provisions of this Circular are intended for internal management purposes only and are not intended to (1) create delay in the administrative process, (2) provide new grounds for judicial review, or (3) create legal rights enforceable against agencies or their officers. The following policy guidelines are provided to assist and govern implementation of the policy enunciated in paragraph 6.

a. Reliance On Voluntary Standards.

  1. Voluntary standards that will serve agencies' purposes and are consistent with applicable laws and regulations should be adopted and used by Federal agencies in the interests of greater economy and efficiency, unless they are specifically prohibited by law from doing so.

  2. International standards should be considered in procurement and regulatory applications in the interests of promoting trade and implementing the provisions of the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade and the Agreement on Government Procurement (commonly referred to as the "Standards Code" and the "Procurement Code", respectively.)

  3. Voluntary standards should be given preference over non-mandatory Government standards unless use of such voluntary standards would adversely affect performance or cost, reduce competition, or have other significant disadvantages.

  4. In adopting and using voluntary standards, preference should be given to those based on performance criteria when such criteria may reasonably be used in lieu of design, material, or construction criteria. Preference should also be given, in light of stated national goals and objectives, to the adoption and use of voluntary standards that (i) reflect the metric system of measurement, and (ii) foster materials, products, systems, services, or practices that are environmentally sound and energy efficient.

  5. Voluntary standards adopted by Federal agencies should be referenced, along with their dates of issuance and sources of availability, in appropriate publications, regulatory orders, and related in-house documents. Such adoption should take into account the requirements of copyright and other similar restrictions.

  6. Agencies should not be inhibited, if within their statutory authorities, from developing and using Government standards in the event that voluntary standards bodies cannot or do not develop a needed, acceptable standard in a timely fashion. Nor should the policy contained in this Circular be construed to commit any agency to the use of a voluntary standard which, after due consideration, is, in its opinion, inadequate, does not meet statutory criteria, or is otherwise inappropriate.

b. Participation in Voluntary Standards Bodies

  1. Participation by knowledgeable agency employees in the standards activities of voluntary standards bodies and standards-developing groups, both domestic and international, should be actively encouraged and promoted by agency officials when consistent with the provisions of paragraph 6b.

  2. Agency employees who, at Government expense, participate in standards activities of voluntary standards bodies and standards-developing groups should do so in their governmental capacities as specifically authorized agency representatives.

  3. Agency participation in voluntary standards bodies and standards-developing groups does not, of itself, connote agency agreement with, or endorsement of, decisions reached by such bodies and groups or of standards approved and published by voluntary standards bodies.

  4. Participation by agency representatives should be aimed at contributing to the development of voluntary standards that (a) will eliminate the necessity for development or maintenance of separate Government standards, and (b) will further such national goals and objectives as increased use of (i) the metric system of measurement, and (ii) environmentally sound and energy efficient materials, products, systems, services, or practices.

  5. Agency representatives serving as members of standards-developing groups should participate actively and on a basis of equality with private sector representatives. In doing so, agency representatives should not seek to dominate such groups. Active participation is intended to include full involvement in discussions and technical debates, registering of opinions and, if selected, serving as chairpersons or in other official capacities. Agency representatives may vote, in accordance with the procedures of the voluntary standards body, at each stage of standards development, unless specifically prohibited from doing so by law or their agencies.

  6. The number of individual agency participants in a given voluntary standards activity should be kept to the minimum required for effective presentation of the various program, technical, or other concerns of Federal agencies.

  7. The providing of Agency support to a voluntary standards activity should be limited to that which is clearly in furtherance of an agency's mission and responsibility. Normally, the total amount of Federal support should be no greater than that of all private sector participants in that activity except when it is in the direct and predominant interest of the Government to develop a standard or revision thereto and its development appears unlikely in the absence of such support. The form of agency support, subject to legal and budgetary authority, may include:

      (a) Direct financial support; e.g., grants, sustaining memberships, and contracts;

      (b) Administrative support; e.g., travel costs, hosting of meetings, and secretarial functions;

      (c) Technical support; e.g., cooperative testing for standards evaluation and participation of agency personnel in the activities of standards-developing groups; and

      (d) Joint planning with voluntary standards bodies to facilitate a coordinated effort in identifying and developing needed standards.

  8. Participation by agency representatives in the policymaking process of voluntary standards bodies, in accordance with the procedures of those bodies, is encouraged -- particularly in matters such as establishing priorities, developing procedures for preparing, reviewing, and approving standards, and creating standards-developing groups. In order to maintain the private, nongovernmental nature of such bodies, however, agency representatives should refrain from decisionmaking involvement in the internal day-to-day management of such bodies (e.g., selection of salaried officers and . employees, establishment of staff salaries and administrative policies).

  9. This Circular does not provide guidance concerning the internal operating procedures that may be applicable to voluntary standards bodies because of their relationships to agencies under this Circular. Agencies should, however, carefully consider what laws or rules may apply in a particular instance because of these relationships. For example, these relationships may involve the Federal Advisory Committee Act, as amended (5 U.S.C. App. I), or a provision of an authorizing statute for a particular agency. Agencies are best able to determine what laws and policies should govern particular relationships and to assess the extent to which competition may be enhanced and cost-effectiveness increased. Questions relating to anti-trust implications of such relationships should be addressed to the Attorney General.

8. Responsibilities.

a. The Secretary will:

  1. Coordinate and foster executive branch implementation of the policy in paragraph 6 of this Circular, and may provide administrative guidance to assist agencies in implementing paragraph 8.b.(2)(d) of this Circular;

  2. Establish an interagency consultative mechanism to advise the Secretary and agency heads in implementing the policy contained herein. That mechanism shall provide for participation by all affected agencies and ensure that their views are considered;

  3. Report to the Office of Management and Budget concerning implementation of this Circular; and

  4. Establish procedures by which agencies will develop the directories described in paragraph 8.b.(2)(d), and establish procedures to make these directories available to the public.

b. The heads of agencies concerned with standards will:

  1. Implement the policy in paragraph 6 of this Circular in accordance with the policy guidelines in paragraph 7 within 120 days of issuance;

  2. Within 120 days of issuance, shall designate a senior level official as the Standards Executive who will be responsible for agency-wide implementation of this Circular. The Standards Executive's responsibilities will include, but not be limited to:

      (a) Establishing procedures to ensure that agency representatives participating in voluntary standards bodies and standards-developing groups will, to the extent possible, ascertain the views of the agency on matters of paramount interest and will, as a minimum, express views that are not inconsistent or in conflict with established agency views;

      (b) Ensuring, when two or more agencies participate in a given voluntary standards body or standards-developing group, that they coordinate their views on matters of paramount importance so as to present, whenever feasible, a single, unified position and, where not feasible, a mutual recognition of differences;

      (c) Cooperating with the Secretary in carrying out his responsibilities under this Circular;

      (d) Consulting with the Secretary, as necessary, in the development and issuance of internal agency procedures and guidance implementing this Circular, including the development and harmonized implementation of an agency-wide directory identifying agency employees participating in standards developing groups; and

      (e) Submitting, in response to the request of the Secretary, reports on the status of agency interaction with voluntary standards bodies.

  3. Review their existing standards within five years of issuance of this Circular, and at least once every five years thereafter, and replace those for which an adequate and appropriate voluntary standard can be substituted.

9. Reporting Requirements. One year from the date of issuance of this Circular, and every year thereafter, the Secretary will submit to the office of Management and Budget a brief, summary report on the status of agency interaction with voluntary standards bodies. As a minimum, the report will include the following information:

a. The nature and extent of agency participation in the development and utilization of voluntary standards, including:

  1. the number of agency employees participating in at least one standards developing group;

  2. the number of voluntary standards the agency has adopted since the last report which result from agency partipation in a standards developing group;

  3. the number of standards the agency has replaced as a result of the requirements set forth in paragraph 8b.(3).

b. Identification of any voluntary standards that have been adopted for the purpose of promoting environmentally sound and energy efficient materials, products, systems, services or practices.

c. An evaluation of the effectiveness of the policy promulgated in this Circular and recommendations for change.

10. Policy Review. The policy contained in this Circular shall be reviewed for effectiveness by the Office of Management and Budget three years from the date of issuance.

11. Inquiries. For information concerning this Circular, contact the office of Management and Budget, Office of Federal Procurement Policy, telephone 202/395-6803.


Leon E. Panetta Director