Big Changes for Standards at the Department of Defense 8/1995

As you can see by the number of major standards canceled since the beginning of 1995, there are some major changes going on in the DOD (U.S. Department of Defense) standardization program. The changes have been in the works since the late 1970's, but because Dr. Perry, Secretary of the DOD, has made acquisition reform the dominant theme of his administration, the changes are finally being implemented.

In the February 1995 issue of Technical Communication (Volume 42 Number 1), we discussed the Perry memo, which mandated the shift in focus away from the defense-industrial complex towards the commercial marketplace. The changes mandated by the memo have been supported by funding and by training. Additionally, action on this change has begun early in the Perry administration. The process has been given added urgency due to extraordinary reductions in both budget and manpower for the military, which have forced re-engineering throughout the services.

The most notable features of the memo were the establishment of a performance-based solicitation process, implementation of standardization document improvements, and the creation of irreversible cultural change. Requirements like the necessity for a waiver in contracts making use of military specifications and standards, with no waiver needed for the use of commercial standards, were designed to force program offices to stop and think when placing standards on a contract. The result is solicitations with significantly shorter Statement of Works, reduced data requirements, and far fewer standards cited.

How has the Department of Defense managed to make profound changes in a little over one year? Although at the time that the memo was released, the impact was unclear to contractors and military personal, but in retrospect it was design to get attention. And get attention it did! Since that time, the follow-through for the Secretary's directions have come from the Defense Standards Improvement Council (DSIC). It is a carefully orchestrated effort geared to get the most "bang for the buck" so to speak.

The DSIC is composed of Senior Executives from each of the military departments, the Defense Logistics agency and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Meeting twice a month, the DSIC's first action was to set up a SWAT team to had identify the most expensive military specifications and standards to implement. For these documents, recommendations were to be made for appropriate action.

The documents the SWAT team went after were not documents that are rarely used -- these documents are getting weeded out as the memo promotes a review process of the relevance of all the military specs and standards. Instead, these are the frequently called out military documents that require special military-based procedures for common business practices: calibration, statistical process control, soldering, packaging, and so on. Military standards in particular were emphasized because there are far fewer standards than specifications, and because they frequently impose burdensome management practices and excessive reporting and auditing requirements. The use of these standards turns out to be a barrier to integration of the commercial and military production lines.

The first target list produced was the "Hot 62," 62 documents identified as high cost drivers. Once the process was initiated, the "Willoughby 10" and more were added. As of August 31, 1995, 115 documents have been identified and reviewed, and the decision for action has been made by the DSIC.

The results have varied from document to document. They include cancellation or inactivation for new design, retention until replacement can be made using non-government standards, conversion to handbooks, commercial item descriptions, performance specifications or acquisition guides, retention as currently promulgated, and deferred action until further evaluation can take place. However, the bulk have been canceled or inactivated (49 of the 115).

You will notice the conversion above to performance specifications or acquisition guides. These are two of eight new document types that have been created both in the new revision D of the MIL-STD-961 (see above) and the new revision of the MIL-STD-962 due in September, 1995. We will review these new document types in detail in the next column.

The most challenging aspect of the changes currently being made at the DOD remains "irreversible cultural change." Training is being emphasized, with seminars on the new types of documents and the proper use of specifications. The changes are happening so fast, however, that the content of the courses is being updated on a monthly basis. There is also a Homepage on the Internet that provides informational support for this process. You will find it at

All in all, the DOD is acting decisively to help cut costs, promote the use of commercial practices, and to join the global move towards standards harmonization. It looks likely that Greg Saunders, with OSD, Acquisition Affairs, the Pentagon, will be the next chair of the SDSC, the ANSI committee working on setting up a National Standards Services Network (NSSN) (see my May, 1994 column for more detail, Volume 41, Number 2). The DOD is reaching out to become part of the mainstream standardization process, no longer a world of its own. It looks like a very interesting time ahead.

Claudia Bach is President of Document Center, Inc., an information delivery service based in Belmont, CA. The company has complete collections of specifications and standards from both government sources and industry associations. She can be reached by phone at (650) 591-7600, by fax at (650) 591-7617, or by e-mail at, or see  

For more information on standards see Document Center's Home page Welcome to Document Center . This article was originally published by the Society for Technical Communication. If you'd like to know more about this association for technical writers see: