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What are Standards?

According to OMB Circular A-119:
The term "standard," or "technical standard" as cited in the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act (NTTAA), includes all of the following:

  • Common and repeated use of rules, conditions, guidelines or characteristics for products or related processes and production methods, and related management systems practices.
  • The definition of terms; classification of components; delineation of procedures; specification of dimensions, materials, performance, designs, or operations; measurement of quality and quantity in describing materials, processes, products, systems, services, or practices; test methods and sampling procedures; or descriptions of fit and measurements of size or strength.
Section 3 of the Circular contains additional text description of what is a standard.

TYPES OF STANDARDS


Standards may be classified in numerous ways. Standards can be differentiated based on purpose.

  • A basic standard has a broad ranging effect in a particular field, such as a standard for metal which affects a range of products from cars down to screws.
  • Terminology standards (or standardized nomenclature) define words permitting representatives of an industry or parties to a transaction to use a common, clearly understood language.
  • Test and measurement standards define the methods to be used to assess the performance or other characteristics of a product or process.
  • Product standards establish qualities or requirements for a product (or related group of products) to assure that it will serve its purpose effectively.
  • Process standards specify requirements to be met by a process, such as an assembly line operation, in order to function effectively.
  • Service standards, such as for repairing a car, establish requirements to be met in order to achieve the designated purpose effectively.
  • Interface standards, such as the point of connection between a telephone and a computer terminal, are concerned with the compatibility of products.
  • Standards on data to be provided contain lists of characteristics for which values or other data are to be stated for specifying the product, process or service.
  • International Standards have been developed through a process that is open to participation by representatives of all interested countries, transparent, consensus-based, and subject to due process. The existence of non-harmonized standards for similar products, processes, and services in different countries or regions can create barriers to trade. Therefore, export-minded countries and industries have recognized the need for internationally accepted standards to help rationalize the international trading process.
Standards may also be classified by the intended user group. Some examples include:

  • Company standards are meant for use by a single industrial organization and usually are developed internally.
  • International standards are developed and promulgated by international governmental and non-governmental organizations, such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) or the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).
  • Harmonized standards can be either an attempt by a country to make its standard compatible with an international, regional or other standard or it can be an agreement by two or more nations on the content and application of a standard, the latter of which tends to be mandatory.
  • Industry standards are developed and promulgated by an industry for materials and products related to that industry.
  • Government standards are developed and promulgated by Federal, State, and local agencies to address needs or applications peculiar to their missions and functions.
Another distinction among standards is the manner in which they specify requirements.

  • Performance standards describe how a product is supposed to function. A performance standard for water pipe might set requirements for the pressure per square inch that a pipe must withstand, along with a test method to determine if a specimen meets the requirement.
  • Design standards define characteristics or how the product is to be built. The specification that a pipe be made of a given gage of copper would characterize a design standard.
Government agencies are encouraged to write technical regulations and standards in terms of performance, rather than design characteristics.

Still another classification scheme distinguishes between voluntary standards, which by themselves impose no obligations regarding use, and mandatory standards. A mandatory standard is generally published as part of a code, rule or regulation by a regulatory government body and imposes an obligation on specified parties to conform to it. However, the distinction between these two categories may be lost when voluntary consensus standards are referenced in government regulations, effectively making them mandatory" standards.

It is clear, then, that standards cover a broad range of types and serve a wide variety of purposes.