The federal government has a long history of using voluntary consensus standards (VCS) to establish enforceable standards and regulations, as well as including references to such standards into non-binding policy and guidance documents. There are literally hundreds of VCS currently incorporated by reference into government standards used daily by safety, health and environmental professionals: consensus standards developed by organizations including the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), ASTM International, and many others. These standards are developed through precise processes, which must be transparent and have comment and appeal mechanisms, and the technical committees that write the standards are to be balanced in interest.

The use of consensus standards by government, thorough "Incorporation by Reference" (IBR), got a significant boost in February 1996, when Section 12(d) of Pub. L. 104–113, the "National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act of 1995," ("TTA" or "the Act" - 15 USC &/167; 272) was passed by the Congress. The purpose of the legislation was to establish the policies of the existing OMB Circular A-119, Federal Participation in the Development and Use of Voluntary Consensus Standards and in Conformity Assessment Activities, into law.

The intent of Section 12(d) of the Act was:

  1. to direct "federal agencies to focus upon increasing their use of [voluntary consensus] standards whenever possible," thus, reducing federal procurement and operating costs; and

  2. to authorize the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) as the "federal coordinator for government entities responsible for the development of technical standards and conformity assessment activities," thus eliminating "unnecessary duplication of conformity assessment activities" (Cong. Rec. H1262 (February 27, 1996) (statements of Rep. Morella)).

The OMB circular (consistent with Section 12(d) of TTA) directs agencies to use voluntary consensus standards in lieu of developing government-unique standards, except when such use would be inconsistent with the law or otherwise impractical.

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