Voluntary Consensus Standards:

Agencies' Compliance With the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act

T-RCED-00-122: Published: Mar 15, 2000. Publicly Released: Mar 15, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed federal agencies' compliance with the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act, which directs federal agencies to use voluntary consensus standards, focusing on: (1) the National Institute of Standards and Technology's (NIST) and the Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) activities in carrying out their oversight responsibilities under the act; (2) federal agencies' efforts in reporting their standards activities; and (3) progress made specifically by the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in complying with the act.

GAO noted that: (1) NIST and OMB have taken a number of steps to guide and coordinate federal agencies in their efforts to increase their use of voluntary consensus standards; (2) NIST has chaired an interagency committee to coordinate standards policy and activities among federal agencies, established an internal advisory committee to create a strategic approach to setting standards for other agencies to model, and recently proposed guidance on federal conformity assessment activities; (3) NIST has also worked with the American National Standards Institute, which coordinates and sanctions voluntary standards, to develop a web site that helps agencies identify relevant voluntary standards; (4) since revising OMB Circular A-119, OMB's efforts have focused primarily on its review and approval of NIST's summary of federal activities on standards that OMB submits to Congress; (5) the report on federal agencies' standards activities covering fiscal year 1998 was presented to Congress in March 2000, 18 months after the close of the fiscal year; (6) the delay reflected tardiness in each stage of the reporting process, starting with federal agencies that provided their input to NIST several months after the date specified in the circular; (7) in part, NIST's report was late because of the agencies' tardiness in providing submissions; (8) in addition, NIST did not have a definitive list of agencies that are required to report, which added to the delay because it could not determine when all the submissions were in; (9) OMB provided the report to Congress about 6 months after receiving agencies' submissions from NIST; (10) OMB stated that this time was necessary because of revisions it requested from NIST and other demands on its resources, such as its efforts to help coordinate federal activities to address year 2000 issues; (11) GAO found that both DOD and EPA have taken steps to comply with the act; (12) DOD has replaced hundreds of military specifications with voluntary standards, and EPA has established a system to keep track of its rules that use voluntary consensus standards; (13) according to OMB and NIST officials, DOD's and EPA's efforts are similar to the progress most federal agencies have been making in complying with the act; and (14) the reporting measures established in the circular do not assess agencies' efforts in assisting U.S. competitiveness, so GAO cannot measure the progress being made against this objective.

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