When the revised White House Office of Management and Budget Circular A-119 was published a few days ago, ANAB really took notice. As was the case in the previous version, the document endorsed the use of existing standards instead of creating government-specific requirements. What’s new in this revision is a strong indication of support for conformity assessment – which includes testing, inspection, and certification of products, personnel, and management systems, as well as accreditation of the same.
Specifically, OMB Circular A-119 directs agencies to use standards developed or adopted by voluntary consensus standards bodies rather than standards unique to government. Voluntary consensus standards typically are those developed and published by national and international standards bodies; familiar examples of such standards include ISO 9001 and ISO/IEC 17025.
Further, OMB Circular A-119 says government agencies should design conformity assessment programs that align with market dynamics and maximize the benefits to society. This is significant because it recognizes the value of the well-established private-sector infrastructure for accreditation and certification. In effect, the message is that government should be striving to attain the same benefits that business and industry have realized through standards and conformity assessment. We’ve identified these potential benefits elsewhere as including increased productivity and efficiency, expanded opportunities for international trade, improved health and safety, conservation of resources, and protection of the environment.
Agencies can seek help from both OMB and the National Institute of Standards and Technology to identify their conformity assessment needs and assess the feasibility of taking advantage of private-sector options. The revised circular also recognizes the role of international organizations such as IAF and ILAC, as it directs agencies to consider using existing international conformity assessment schemes.