Getting a Better Understanding of the Metric System:

Implications if Adopted by the United States [Report and Executive Summary]

CED-78-128A: Published: Oct 20, 1978. Publicly Released: Oct 20, 1978.

Additional Materials:


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

Many believe that a decision has already been made to adopt the metric system in the United States. In fact, many think that conversion is mandatory, especially among small businesses and the general public. Although the Metric Conversion Act of 1975 provides for a continuation of the existing policy allowing for voluntary conversion, the current policy has been misinterpreted and, within this context, attempts have been made to convert to the metric system.

The 1975 act and its legislative history show that national policy is not to prefer one system over another, and there is insufficient evidence to support or refute the belief that conversion to the metric system in the United States is inevitable. Costs will be incurred for education, converting computer systems and databases, changing laws, maintaining inventories, and changing product sizes. Before voluntarily deciding to convert, there should be a clear understanding of the policy, knowledge of the costs of benefits involved, an assessment of the impact on the sector involved and any related sectors, and a determination of the impact on consumers.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The U.S. Metric Board should: inform the American people that conversion to the metric system is strictly voluntary and that the national policy does not favor the metric system over the customary system, or vice versa; ensure that its policies and actions do not advocate or discourage the use of one system over the other; hold public hearings on those conversion plans that affect the general public; give consideration to those conversion activities that have already taken place when planning and coordinating conversion activities of U.S. industries involving the adoption of international standards; and develop avenues through which the States may define their roles and coordinate appropriate voluntary conversion activities among other States under the current national policy. The Director of the Office of Management and Budget should, in working with the U.S. Metric Board, clarify for Federal agencies what they are expected to do with regard to planning and coordinating any increased use of the metric system and ensure that Federal agencies establish policies consistent with the intent of the Metric Conversion Act.

    Agency Affected:


Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Sep 21, 2016

Aug 3, 2016

Aug 1, 2016

Jul 14, 2016

Jul 5, 2016

Jun 30, 2016

Jun 28, 2016

Jun 23, 2016

Jun 22, 2016

Looking for more? Browse all our products here