Government Agency Standards

There are two types of standards published by government agencies: those that have the force of law and those that don't. The latter are usually mandatory on projects of the public agency owner but not on private projects, unless so specified in the contract documents.

Although U.S. government agencies have been mandated to use industry standards where available, many U.S. government standards are still in print and referenced by government agencies. Most U.S. government standards are written for government procurement purposes, which means that they usually include administrative requirements that are not appropriate for private contracts. In addition, there is an inevitable bias toward lowest-common-denominator products -- be sure you understand the quality being specified. On the other hand, there are some design and product issues for which there are no standards other than U.S. government agency standards. The originating agency usually wrote the standard because there were no standards available -- in these cases, the government agency is on the leading edge, although it may not remain so if the issue has relevance to the industry at large. In that sort of situation, ASTM often takes over the standard and maintains it within its consensus process.

Aside from standards developed by specific agencies, the two major standards writing agencies of the federal government are the General Services Administration (GSA) and the Department of Defense (DOD). GSA's standards are Federal Specifications (FS), Federal Standards (Fed Std), Federal Test Methods (FTM), and Commercial Item Descriptions (CID). The DOD's standards are Military Specifications (Mil or Mil Specs) and Military Standards (Mil Std).

The only place to find Federal or Mil Specs or Standards is at No other source is authoritative. You'll need to register for an account for Assist On-Line but the documents are free.

Some examples with typical designations are:

  • Federal Specs and Standards: CCC-W-408, A-A-60003 (commercial item descriptions), FED-STD 101, FTM-STD.
  • Mil Specs and Standards: MIL-C-17, MIL-STD-810.

Federal documents designated PS are Voluntary Product Standards maintained by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). There are only a few but they are fundamental and widely referenced. They are:

  • PS 1, Commercial and Industrial Plywood.
  • PS 20, American Softwood Lumber Standard
  • PS 2, Performance Standard for Wood-Based Structural-Use Panels

State, regional, and local agencies also promulgate standards where they cannot find existing standards that suit their requirements. These usually have the force of law in the original jurisdiction but may also be referenced as a voluntary standard in other jurisdictions.