Since 1929 the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), formerly called the National Bureau of Standards (NBS), has participated with federal and state agencies and private interests in developing evaluation criteria for testing laboratories and in providing on-site examinations, proficiency test samples, calibrated standards, and reference materials. In 1969 the American Society for Testing and Materials (now known as ASTM International) requested that NIST participate with ASTM and other interests in establishing a testing laboratory examination service to cover a broad range of product areas when and as needed. Also that year, the National Conference of States on Building Codes and Standards (NCSBCS) asked NBS to develop evaluation criteria and examination methodology for determining the capability of agencies that test and certify mobile homes. The ASTM proposal for a Technical Inspection Service led to an NBS study and development of a program for publicly recognizing qualified testing laboratories. NVLAP was officially established by the U.S. Department of Commerce by the publication of program procedures in the Federal Register on 25 February 1976, for inclusion under Title 15, Part 7, of the U. S. Code of Federal Regulations. It is a legal entity on the basis of its governmental status.
The development of NVLAP laboratory accreditation criteria began with the establishment of the first laboratory accreditation program (LAP) in 1977 — thermal insulation materials. Other testing LAPs soon followed. Among these were concrete testing, carpet testing, acoustical testing services, ionizing radiation dosimetry (personnel radiation dosimeters), commercial products testing (paints, plastics, and seals and sealants) and FCC test methods.
The increasing use of accreditation as a regulatory tool involved NVLAP in several new testing programs in the late 1980s and 1990s. The creation of the asbestos fiber analysis LAP was mandated by the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA), which requires laboratories that analyze asbestos samples taken from public, or private, elementary or secondary schools to be accredited by NVLAP. Other testing LAPs in support of federal regulatory agencies developed during that time were the electric motors, lighting products, fastener and metals, and information technology and security testing programs. The electromagnetics compatibility and telecommunications (ECT) LAP experienced dramatic growth when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) amended its rules to require that laboratories testing personal computers and peripherals be accredited to demonstrate competence to perform FCC compliance testing.
In 1991 the National Conference of Standards Laboratories (NCSL), now known as NCSL International, filed a request that NIST, under the NVLAP procedures, develop and administer a laboratory accreditation program for calibration laboratories. In 1994 the NVLAP procedures were redesignated as Part 285 of Title 15 of the U. S. Code of Federal Regulations (15 CFR 285) and expanded to include the accreditation of calibration laboratories. The procedures were also updated to be compatible with conformity assurance and assessment concepts, including the provisions contained in ISO/IEC Guide 25:1990, General requirements for the competence of calibration and testing laboratories.
In 2001 revisions to NVLAP's procedures were published once again to ensure continued consistency with international standards and guidelines as set forth in ISO/IEC 17025:1999, General requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories, and ISO/IEC Guide 58:1993, Calibration and testing laboratory accreditation systems — General requirements for operation and recognition, and their subsequent updated versions and replacements. These changes were made with the aim of facilitating and promoting the acceptance of test and calibration results between countries to avoid barriers to trade and establishing a strong foundation for international mutual recognition arrangements.
The first decade of the new millennium saw a trend toward the development and growth of accreditation programs in areas that are deemed to be inherently governmental or that are aimed at improving safety, security, health, and the environment. Recent examples include the establishment of LAPs for the testing fields of voting systems, personal body armor, biometrics, and healthcare information technology. Several existing programs have been expanded to meet specific needs of government agencies such as the addition of solid state lighting to the Energy Efficient Lighting Products LAP and the addition of Security Content Automation Protocol (SCAP) testing to the Cryptographic and Security Testing LAP.
NVLAP currently operates 22 laboratory accreditation programs with approximately 800 accreditations worldwide.
NVLAP has a long history of participation as a signatory in mutual recognition arrangements (MRAs) with other laboratory accreditation bodies around the world. In 1997 NVLAP participated in the inaugural signing of the Asia Pacific Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (APLAC) MRA in Tokyo when seven full members signed the arrangement. In 2000 NVLAP was among the first group of laboratory accreditation bodies to sign the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC) MRA in Washington, DC. In 2009 NVLAP was recognized as a member of the InterAmerican Accreditation Cooperation (IAAC) multilateral recognition arrangement (MLA) at a signing ceremony held in San Jose, Costa Rica. The scope of recognition for each of the three arrangements is testing and calibration laboratory accreditation. NVLAP promotes these arrangements with its stakeholders and has a cross-frontier accreditation policy in harmony with ILAC-G21:2012, Cross Frontier Accreditation — Principles for Cooperation.