Laboratory Accreditation:

Requirements Vary Throughout the Federal Government

RCED-89-102: Published: Mar 28, 1989. Publicly Released: Mar 28, 1989.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined federal government programs' laboratory accreditation requirements to determine whether any had overlapping requirements which could be streamlined.

GAO found that: (1) a National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) study identified 13 federal agencies with 33 laboratory accreditation programs; (2) accreditation typically involved evaluation of organizational information, quality control, personnel, facilities and equipment, testing methods, recordkeeping, test reports, and proficiency testing, although programs required differing degrees of specificity; (3) the programs, which typically involved different fields of laboratory testing, generally did not overlap, although there was some overlap between the NIST National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Description of Measurement Facilities Program; (4) programs differed in their accreditation application requirements, with 70 percent requiring both paperwork and on-site reviews; (5) laboratory officials believed that some of the programs' requirements were burdensome; (6) most programs did not separate accreditation costs from other expenses, since they believed that accreditation was only a small part of the complete program; (7) only two programs charged fees for participation in their programs; (8) laboratory officials believed that accreditation at the national level provided greater credibility for their services and was of growing importance to international trade and U.S. competitiveness; and (9) one accreditation program had bilateral agreements with several countries to recognize each country's accredited laboratories.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Chairman, FCC, and the Director, NIST, should work together to streamline federal accreditation requirements by eliminating the overlaps in their programs for testing electronic devices. This could be done by FCC and NIST officials working more closely together to determine how the National Voluntary Accreditation Program can best meet FCC requirements.

    Agency Affected: Federal Communications Commission

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Representatives of FCC and NIST have met and concluded that overlapping requirements are currently minor and no changes are appropriate at this time. They also agreed, however, to continue to meet and work together to seek ways which the NIST accreditation program can better assist FCC objectives.

    Recommendation: The Chairman, FCC, and the Director, NIST, should work together to streamline federal accreditation requirements by eliminating the overlaps in their programs for testing electronic devices. This could be done by FCC and NIST officials working more closely together to determine how the National Voluntary Accreditation Program can best meet FCC requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce: National Institute of Standards and Technology

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FCC does not consider its license application process to be an accreditation program or believe that a rule change will relieve laboratories of the minimal policy burden. FCC staff has met with NIST staff, however, and will continue meeting with them to improve the coordination and efficiency of their mutual responsibilities in this area.

    Recommendation: The Director, Office of Management and Budget (OMB), should examine federal accreditation programs to determine whether user fees can and should be appropriately charged.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce: National Institute of Standards and Technology

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GAO recommended charging fees for 20 programs that GAO identified as providing lab accreditation services. To date, the federal government is charging or is in the process of setting fees for 7 of these programs. The relevant federal agencies have chosen not to charge fees for the remaining 13 programs because they have decided it would not be cost-effective or feasible to assess and collect fees.

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