Certification Requirements:

Guidance Governing Agency Actions Is Limited

T-GGD-99-166: Published: Sep 9, 1999. Publicly Released: Sep 9, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the certification requirements of federal agencies, focusing on: (1) the extent and variety of certification activities in the federal government; (2) the extent to which any policies, procedures, or guidance exist governing these activities, either governmentwide or within selected agencies; and (3) an agency certification practice that could serve as an example or best practice for other agencies.

GAO noted that: (1) GAO's preliminary results indicate that federal agencies engage in a large number and wide variety of certification-related activities; (2) these activities vary across multiple dimensions, such as the targets of the certifications, the types of organizations that actually do the certifications, and whether the certifications are mandatory or voluntary; (3) although there are some limits in federal procurement law and within certain programs on the use of certification requirements, there is no governmentwide or, within the agencies GAO contacted, agencywide guidance to direct or assist agencies in the development, selection, or implementation of all types of certification requirements; (4) however, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has prepared draft guidance for agencies on conformity assessment activities, including certification; (5) NIST plans to publish that guidance for public comment later this year; (6) GAO believes that transparency, or describing the basis of agencies' decisionmaking, is a certification best practice; (7) GAO concluded that some agencies' certification decisions were very transparent, clearly documenting the criteria used to select a particular requirement or certification body; and (8) however, in other cases--including one at the Department of Veterans Affairs--the reasons agencies selected specific certifying bodies were not as transparent, and organizations that were not selected to provide certifications raised questions about the criteria the agencies used.

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