Non-Government Standards

Policy on the Use of Non-Government Standards (NGS)

DoD is committed to the adoption and use of voluntary consensus standards (defined in DoDM 4120.24 as "non-Government standards (NGS)"), where practical, instead of developing new or updating existing government specifications and standards. This policy is consistent with P.L. 104-113, the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act of 1995 (NTTAA) and with the current revision of Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular No. A-119, "Federal Participation in the Development and Use of Voluntary Consensus Standards and in Conformity Assessment Activities," dated January 27, 2016.

Participation on NGS Bodies

DoD policy encourages employees to participate as "equal partners" with private sector and other government employees on technical committees of NGS Bodies that develop standards. Such participation ensures proper consideration of DoD requirements, enhances the technical knowledge of DoD personnel, and allows DoD employees to contribute their considerable technical capabilities to the development of "world class" national standards. DoD employees concerned about conflicts of interest or legal sanctions that could result from an Executive Branch employee serving, in an official capacity, as a member of the board of an NGS Body (NGSB) should consult the Deputy Assistant Attorney General opinion in response to a question posed by the Office of Government Ethics. There is an excellent discussion of the laws governing participation of federal employees on NGS Bodies (NGSBs) in the Director's Forum section of the January/March 2009 DSP Journal, which also references several authoritative sources.

On November 19, 2021, Ms. Stephanie Possehl, Defense Standardization Executive (DSE), issued a memorandum to Service and Agency Standardization Executives to reaffirm DoD’s commitment to encouraging its personnel to participate in the activities of Non-Government Standards Bodies (NGSBs). Additional guidance can be found in SD-9, DoD Guidance on Participating in the Development and Use of Non-Government Standards. The SD-9 was developed to promote effective DoD use of non-government standards and encourage DoD participation in their development. The Guide helps DoD personnel participating on NGSBs better understand their roles and responsibilities; it provides NGSBs with an understanding of DoD practices and policies; and it provides guidance to Industry and other interested parties involved in standards development activities.

Payment of Membership Fees and Travel

Comptroller General Decision B-160579 clarifies that Federal employees may participate on NGS Bodies and Agency's may pay the membership fees, so long as "...the membership is entered in the name of the Federal Agency concerned rather than the individual, that such membership would be of primary benefit to the agency, and that an administrative determination has been made that agency membership in a particular professional association is necessary to carry out the activities authorized by the appropriation in question."

On 28 May 2013, the Chief Financial Officers Council, chaired by the OMB Controller, issued a Controller Alert that addresses spending on travel and conferences. This guidance specifically cites as justifiable travel or conference expenses in support of standards-setting activities related to an agency's mission-critical responsibilities.

OMB Circular A-119

OMB Circular A-119 Revised establishes policies on Federal use and development of voluntary consensus standards and on conformity assessment activities. Among other things, Circular A-119 directs agencies to use voluntary consensus standards in lieu of government-unique standards except where inconsistent with law or otherwise impractical. It also provides guidance for agencies participating in voluntary consensus standards bodies and describes procedures for satisfying the reporting requirements in the Act. The policies in this Circular are intended to reduce to a minimum the reliance by agencies on government-unique standards.

Role of the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) in Standards Development

In the United States, responsibility for setting product and process standards rests primarily with the private sector. Government agencies rely heavily on voluntary standards, which they often incorporate into regulatory and procurement requirements. Because of its measurement expertise and its impartiality, NIST provides a variety of technical support that contributes to the development of high-quality domestic and international standards. (Read more) 

To fulfill an NTTAA requirement, NIST submits an annual report to OMB on the implementation of OMB Circular A-119, which details the efforts of each federal agency to use technical standards developed and adopted by voluntary consensus standards bodies, as opposed to using government-unique standards, during the preceding fiscal year. You can review past reports (to 1997) on the NIST-sponsored Standards.Gov website.