Metric Conversion:

Plans, Progress, and Problems in the Federal Government

RCED-90-131: Published: Mar 30, 1990. Publicly Released: Apr 2, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the federal government's implementation of the metric system.

GAO found that federal agencies: (1) did not demonstrate a commitment to metric conversion, although they considered conversion inevitable; (2) allocated minimal resources to support a conversion; and (3) have not advanced beyond the early stages of planning. GAO also found that: (1) only 6 of the 37 agencies it surveyed had completed their guidelines; (2) more than 75 percent of the total work for metric conversion remained to be done; (3) there were no time frames for future progress in achieving metric conversion; and (4) coordination with and conversion of the private sector to the metric system, review of specifications and standards, and metric conversion costs and education posed additional problems to various agencies.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The congressional committee held hearings to focus on the problem. GAO will follow-up in 1992 as required by metric legislation. Commerce has drafted an executive order clarifying its lead agency status. Signature by the President is expected in the near future. The order will greatly strengthen Commerce's authority to lead the conversion and establish reporting requirements.

    Matter: Given the low level of resources that agencies have made available to support metric conversion, Congress may wish to require that agencies follow guidance provided by Commerce as the lead agency.

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The congressional committee held hearings to focus on the problem. GAO will follow-up in 1992 as required by metric legislation.

    Matter: Given the low level of resources that agencies have made available to support metric conversion, Congress may wish to require that agencies include in their annual reports to Congress a realistic estimate of the resources needed and the time frame required to achieve metric conversion.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: At this point, the subcommittees have sufficient membership to begin or continue interagency activities. Commerce is seeking a Department of Justice or OMB replacement for the vacated Chairman of the Legislation and Regulation Subcommittee. Commerce also asked the Department of Energy to reactivate an eleventh subcommittee on fuel and power.

    Recommendation: Given the concerns about the low level of resources that have been made available to support the conversion effort and the difficult task of coordinating activities, not only among a large number of federal agencies but with the private sector, the Secretary of Commerce, as head of the lead agency in guiding and coordinating the federal metric transition, should take steps to focus attention on those issues. Specifically, the Secretary should encourage federal agencies to fill the vacancies on the Metrication Operating Committee's 10 interagency subcommittees and convene those subcommittees on a regular basis as soon as possible.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The proposed metric executive order will require agencies to apply necessary resources to this effort. Commerce is not seeking estimates of the resources, only a firm commitment to apply the necessary resources. The signing of the metric executive order will effectively satisfy this recommendation. Agency implementation will be ongoing until October 1, 1992, or beyond.

    Recommendation: Given the concerns about the low level of resources that have been made available to support the conversion effort and the difficult task of coordinating activities, not only among a large number of federal agencies but with the private sector, the Secretary of Commerce, as head of the lead agency in guiding and coordinating the federal metric transition, should take steps to focus attention on those issues. Specifically, the Secretary should encourage federal agencies to develop a realistic estimate of the amount of resources needed to ensure the maximum practicable degree of metric conversion.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The revision to the metric policy in 15 C.F.R. 19, subpart B, effective February 1, 1991, encourages agencies to set specific time frames. Also, the proposed executive order dealing with federal metric implementation calls for agencies to use the metric system to the extent economically feasible by September 30, 1992, or by such other dates established in consultation with Commerce.

    Recommendation: Given the problems with the content and timeliness of agency guidelines and the general absence of time frames for metric conversion, the Secretary of Commerce, as head of the lead agency in guiding and coordinating the federal metric transition, should take steps to focus attention on those issues. Specifically, the Secretary should encourage federal agencies to develop specific time frames in their guidelines or transition plans to measure their progress toward metric conversion.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Thirteen Interagency Council Metric Policy member agencies have issued updated metric directives and/or developed metric transition plans, and 11 have policy documents in the works. Commerce has reviewed plans developed by other agencies that improve on the DOD model and is recommending them to other agencies as models.

    Recommendation: Given the problems with the content and timeliness of agency guidelines and the general absence of time frames for metric conversion, the Secretary of Commerce, as head of the lead agency in guiding and coordinating the federal metric transition, should take steps to focus attention on those issues. Specifically, the Secretary should encourage federal agencies to conform with Department of Defense Directive 4120.18 on metric conversion in preparing their guidelines and prepare those guidelines as soon as possible.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

 

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