Noting that conformance to international standards has dramatically improved thousands of private-sector organizations, the federal government has issued a notice encouraging voluntary standards conformance in the public sector.
OMB Circular A-119, “Federal Participation in the Development and Use of Voluntary Consensus Standards and in Conformity Assessment Activities” was issued in January 2016. The notice reinforces the importance of government use of voluntary standards and the existing private-sector infrastructure for conformity assessment.
OMB Circular A-119 recognizes the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act (NTTAA) of 1995 as a prime example of how public-private partnerships work to meet and exceed public policy goals. Like OMB Circular A-119, the NTTAA directs U.S. federal government agencies to use private-sector voluntary consensus standards and conformity assessment solutions whenever feasible instead of developing government-unique standards or regulations. The NTTAA also requires government agencies to participate in the standards-development process in keeping with the agencies’ missions and budget priorities.
After more than two decades, the NTTAA remains the cornerstone for promoting the use of voluntary consensus standards and conformity assessment processes for federal-level regulation and procurement. OMB Circular A-119 confirms that public- and private-sector cooperation is crucial to developing and using standards that serve national needs and support innovation and competitiveness.
The federal government has saved millions of dollars by using consensus standards in procurement and to mitigate conflict and regulatory overlap. Government, consumers, industry, and voluntary standards developers should continue to rely on the public-private partnership model in seeking consensus-based solutions to national priorities as a matter of public policy, according to the notice.
Thousands of federal agency representatives participate in private sector-led standards development process and are instrumental in ensuring agency compliance with the NTTAA and OMB Circular A-119. This government participation ensures that government users understand the intent and content of specific standards and conformity assessment activities.
Standards and conformity assessment are keys to a sound economy and they help facilitate global commerce. The U.S. approach is market-driven and private sector-led. This differs from the top-down approach favored by many other countries. The U.S. system is based on globally accepted principles for standards development, including transparency, openness, impartiality, effectiveness, relevance, consensus, and due process.
The continued strength of the U.S. standardization and conformity assessment system depends on ongoing cooperation between government and industry, and the key to a successful partnership is active participation, which requires support and resources from government policy makers at all levels.