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Commerce Department Adopts New Action Plan For Metric Transition

The Commerce Department today announced a new action plan that significantly advances the federal government's transition to the metric system and will help U.S. companies become more competitive in the global marketplace.

Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown said, "Our new plan will serve as a model for all federal agencies striving to make the transition to metric. The department's focus, as well as the focus of the federal metric transition, is on helping U.S. industry compete successfully in the global marketplace, increase exports and create new jobs."

The new action plan benefits from the experiences of the 39 federal agencies that are implementing metric transition programs in accordance with a 1991 Executive Order.

The Commerce Department has two primary metric assignments: lead and coordinate the metric transition activities of all federal agencies, and convert programs and functions within the department that relate to trade, industry and commerce to metric use. Metric terms will be used in budgets, procurements, grants and loans, construction and other business-related activities of the department.

An agenda of specific tasks to be achieved by the federal agencies makes up the first part of the metric action plan. The second part has definite assignments, responsibilities, and timetables for converting each of the operating units of the Commerce Department to the metric system.

Specific actions will include:

  • The International Trade Administration will provide metric advice to U.S. companies seeking to export goods and services.
  • Commerce agencies will begin using internationally standard metric-sized paper.
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology will establish an electronic bulletin board to provide more timely information on industry's use of the metric system.

The department recently has made substantial progress toward use of metric terms in its business-related activities. For instance, a new NIST facilities plan will use the metric system. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is now using metric units in revisions of widely used nautical charts.

The leadership role of the Department of Commerce stems from the 1991 Executive Order that designated the secretary of commerce to direct and coordinate efforts by the federal agencies to implement government metric usage.

The mandate to use the metric system in Commerce Department programs is the same one that was given to all federal agencies when Congress in 1988 amended the Metric Conversion Act of 1975. At that time, Congress declared as U.S. policy that the metric system is the preferred system of weights and measures for trade and commerce.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology, an agency of the Commerce Department's Technology Administration, administers the department's metric transition activities. NIST also leads metric transition-related activities throughout the federal government. The NIST program is headed by Gary P. Carver, who chairs the federal Metrication Operating Committee. NIST also acts as secretariat to the Interagency Council on Metric Policy, chaired by Commerce Under Secretary for Technology Mary L. Good.

Released April 12, 1994, Updated November 27, 2017