No standard way to develop a standard
- By Wilson P. Dizard III
- Jun 18, 2007
When comparing standards, it's important not to mix apples, oranges.
Some standards gain their impact from federal laws that mandate public health and safety procedures. Agencies such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Federal Aviation Administration and Mine Safety and Health Administration implement laws that set safety standards for vehicles, aircraft and mining equipment, for example.
The federal safety standards rely on technical support from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which also aids private standards-setting organizations.
The federal government also sets special standards for its own use. Some concern uniquely federal problems, such the hardware and practices related to classified information or military equipment.
The Office of Management and Budget enforces standards set by Congress in laws such as the Federal Information Security Management Act to control issues such as computer security across the government.
Yet other cross-agency technology standards emerge to meet the needs of specific programs that require interoperable information technology, such as Homeland Security Presidential Directive-12's approach to establishing identity management systems.
The private standards organizations, such as the International Standards Organization (ISO) and American National Standards Institute (ANSI), oversee a voluntary consensus on standards. That method uses committees which bring together the stakeholders engaged with a particular technology.
The voluntary-standards method is designed to allow an open, deliberative process that crafts a standard that doesn't damage the commercial or professional interests of individual companies or groups.
The privately developed standards arise under the auspices of dozens of organizations such as the American Society of Automotive Engineers and American Society for Testing and Materials that follow ANSI methods. Federal agency officials frequently engage with the private organizations to monitor the standards-setting process when it affects areas of federal concern, such as energy conservation.
The ANSI and ISO standards have some legal heft, however, because insurance companies and courts effectively recognize them as an indicator of accepted industry practice in a technical field.
Finally, some standards become accepted industry practice even though they aren't sanctioned by legally mandated federal standards or consensus standards.
Products that achieve a dominant position in a particular market can emerge as a de facto standard that other stakeholders must accept and accommodate.