Government Specifications for Commercial Products:

Necessary or a Wasted Effort?

PSAD-77-171: Published: Nov 3, 1977. Publicly Released: Nov 3, 1977.

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The government uses many specifications and standards to procure the commercial products it uses. Several studies have raised questions about the usefulness of these specifications. A review was conducted which concentrated on General Services Administration (GSA) and Department of Defense (DOD) specifications for commercial products to identify areas where improvements could be made in the government's specification program.

The decision to use or not use a government specification to procure commercial products is not simple, and factors relating to procurement and specifications types complicate the matter. Formal advertising, as the preferred government procurement method, is most easily accomplished by using precise specifications. These specifications can be costly to develop and maintain. Brand-name-or-equal buying would eliminate the need for detailed specifications and allow procurement of readily accessible off-the-shelf products. But this buying would limit competition and have disadvantages for determining which products best meet government needs. Current regulations do not provide cost-versus-benefit guidance for the development or maintenance of specifications. Several instances were identified in which the cost to develop or revise a specification exceeded the cost of the material to be procured. Specifications management was inefficient; information was not gathered on the cost or expected benefits of developing specifications; duplication existed in several commercial-vehicle specifications; and over 50 percent of the active specifications were over 5 years old.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

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

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense and the Administrator General Services should: develop a system for accumulation of development costs for each specification or standardization project and the expected benefits or procurement volume as a basis for approval of each project; change current procurement and standardization regulations to require that development of all new specifications be justified by consideration of development cost versus expected benefits; and revise procurement regulations to permit repeated use of purchase descriptions for commercial products on a repetitive basis where annual procurements do not exceed $100,000. The two officials should take action to eliminate the duplication that exists between GSA and DOD commercial-vehicle specifications and should establish procedures whereby specifications are screened and eliminated from the system if they are not used in a 5-year period.

    Agency Affected:


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