TIA Shares Views on Important Federal Standards Policies
Recently, TIA submitted some extensive comments to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) proposed changes to OMB Circular A-119, Federal Participation in the Development and Use of Voluntary Consensus Standards and in Conformity Assessment Activities. Last revised in 1998, OMB Circular A-119 provides, in part, guidance on how agencies could meet the intent and implement the standards and conformity-assessment-related provisions of the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act of 1995 (NTTAA), in which Congress stated that Federal agencies “shall use technical standards that are developed or adopted by voluntary consensus standards bodies, using such technical standards as a means to carry out policy objectives or activities,” except when an agency determines such use “is inconsistent with applicable law or otherwise impractical.” Circular A-119 directs agencies to use voluntary consensus standards in lieu of government-unique standards except where inconsistent with law or otherwise impractical. Likewise, it provides guidance to agencies on participation in the development of voluntary consensus standards, and articulates policies relating to the use of standards by Federal agencies.
TIA, with an ANSI-accredited process that serves its members across the information and communications technology (ICT) industry, fully appreciates the importance of Circular A-119 and its goals to remove barriers to innovation, investment, and international trade. TIA’s extensive comments address several very important issues from the industry perspective, including: (1) standards developing organizations’ process, (2) intellectual property rights, (3) conformity assessment, and (4) agency operations (our comments are available here).
Government efforts towards ensuring that public authorities can more easily acquire ICT services, applications and products that meet their specific requirements should be encouraged. For governmental entities, the ability to partake in voluntary consensus standard development has many benefits and is consistent with goals of the U.S. Government as reflected in the NTTAA. The U.S. government is a heavy user of open, voluntary, and consensus-based standards across industries, and these standards are often relied upon in regulations and other guidance documents. The current Circular A-119’s policies allow for reliance on open consensus from subject matter experts (both within and outside of the government), while further preserving agency resources by supporting the value of “voluntary consensus standards”. This term is defined broadly to include standards from ANSI-accredited SDOs and also a wide range of consortia, further evidencing the U.S. Government's recognition of the value of having competition and diversity among standards-setting organizations.
Circular A-119’s policies also set an important example to the rest of the globe on governmental participation in the development and use of standards to meet legitimate policy goals, and not used as a means of protectionism resulting in impediments to trade. There is strong recognition by governments of the important role that standards play in international trade as demonstrated by the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade. Also, bilateral and regional trade agreement negotiations, such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), will typically include provisions to avoid standards policies that result in unnecessary barriers to trade. The U.S. Government serves an important role in terms of advocating the “multiple path” approach to developing international standards, raising concerns when there may be trade-related or other standards issues that arise among different nations and as a stakeholder in the standards development process in technology areas.