|MilSpec Reform: Completed
An Interview with Gregory E. Saunders
Defense Standardization Program Office
When and why was MilSpec Reform implemented?
MilSpec reform was formally kicked off with a five-page memo signed
by the Secretary of Defense on June 29, 1994. Secretary Perry
saw that there was a great opportunity for more efficient use
of the national industrial base if the Defense Department could
wean itself from describing its needs in detailed, prescriptive
design and move toward stating requirements in performance terms.
His mandate to reform the military specification system established
clear direction to move to performance specifications, and he
backed up that direction with teeth in the form of a waiver
requirement for use of other-than-performance-based specifications.
What were the objectives for the Reform action?
There were three primary objectives. The first was to eliminate
non-value added, military-unique requirements and procedures;
the second objective was to take advantage of commercial technology
and process advancements; and the third objective was to facilitate
defense firms diversification into commercial markets. It was
apparent that we could no longer support a large segment of our
industrial base that was responsive only to the DoD, and dependent
on Defense dollars for survival. We had to fulfill more of our
needs from the commercial base.
A significant way to move in that direction was to stop telling
our contractors how to do things, but rather to state the desired
results and let innovative, efficient corporate America devise
the best ways to achieve the results. Our movement to performance
based requirements and contracting grew out of these objectives.
The fourth and unwritten objective was to save money. Dr. Perry
believed strongly that by achieving the primary objectives we
would simultaneously save the department millions of acquisition
dollars. He said that we should measure all actions contemplated
in the name of MilSpec reform against these objectives as well
as seeing if it saved money. If an action clearly suboptimized
one of these, or was more costly on a life-cycle basis, then it
was extremely suspect for implementation.
To what degree were the objectives achieved?
We translated Dr. Perrys broad objectives into three goals for
MilSpec Reform. The three goals were to establish a performance
based procurement system; fix our library of documents; and
create irreversible cultural change. Measuring results in even
simple reforms is a difficult and inexact exercise, at best. In
this case, we implemented many MilSpec reform initiatives at the
same time that we were implementing dozens of other acquisition
reform initiatives, and other factors such as base closings, a
general economic boom, an explosion in technology, and shifting
procurement budgets and priorities were also having major influence
on the objectives we were trying to achieve.
We will probably never know just what impact MilSpec reform had
on shifting to greater reliance on the commercial market or the
broader national industrial base, but it is clear that there has
been a major shift in that direction. It is also clear, however,
that corporate consolidations and reduced procurement budgets
have led to an industrial base that looks much different today
than the one we were trying to influence at the beginning of MilSpec
We do know that we achieved a great movement away from prescriptive
specifications to performance specifications and a performance
based procurement system, but we do not have a good measure for
whether the impact of that has been good or bad. We do know that
we have eliminated thousands of outdated documents, shifted thousands
of MilSpecs out of our inventory and to the private sector, and
technically improved many MilSpecs and standards. And there is
little doubt that the culture has been altered so that we use
far fewer standards overall, and we look first to voluntary standards
where standards are needed. MilSpec reform clearly achieved its
small- g goalsbut it is unclear what overall impact that had
on defense acquisition.
Were there any good and bad surprises in the Reform activities?
Oh sureactually quite a few. One of the big surprises was learning
just how dependent both U.S. industry and foreign industry was
on our library of military specifications and standards. As we
began canceling documents that were outdated and shifting documents
from DoD control to private industry control we were besieged
with letters and phone calls decrying these moves. Many seemed
to think that the DoD had a responsibility to maintain documents,
even though we no longer used them, in order to support private
industry that depended on them. While we were sensitive to the
disorder that some of our actions caused, our mission had been
clearly definedwe were here to support Defense acquisition.
Further, as the resources to support our MilSpecs disappeared,
we concluded that it was far better to eliminate documents that
we could not maintain than it was to leave them in place without
maintenance. The former sent users in search of replacements,
but the latter had the danger of allowing users to unknowingly
rely on obsolete documents and obsolete technology.
A second surprise came when we clarified our language in cancellation
notices regarding superseding documents. In the past, it was DoD
policy to point users to superseding documents by stating that
users should refer to such-and-such a document, but we did not
mandate the use of superseding documents. However, since some
users inferred that this was mandatory supersession, we changed
our language to clarify that the choice of a superseding document
was the responsibility of the user and that any replacement document
cited on the cancellation notice was information only and users
would have to evaluate the replacement document in the context
of their application. This clarification caused a major ripple,
especially in the aerospace industry. There was a strong wish
by some industry sectors for the DoD to mandate a superseding
document, thus reducing their risk and responsibility.
Third, as we cancelled or turned over to the private sector thousands
of military specifications (in DoD, a specification describes
a product, a standard describes a process, engineering practice,
or discipline), many in industry told us that they did not want
performance specifications at the piece part level; they did not
want design freedom for parts because of the potential damage
to logistic supportability. We heard many times that we would
have gotten most of the benefit of MilSpec reform if we had stopped
with reform of just a few dozen standards.
Fourth, as we moved away from giving very precise guidance on
how to do things such as configuration management or soldering,
some in industry didnt quite know how to react and so they continued
to use the military methods. Worse, many in DoD did not know how
to evaluate alternative processes and methods. Were getting better
at this, but with complex acquistions it is still a very complicated
How was Reform received by DoDs internal engineering staff, prime
contractors, and subcontractors?
To begin with, change is never easy or comfortable. Our engineering
community felt secure in developing and using MilSpecs. They knew
they worked. To shift from detailed MilSpecs to performance specifications
meant risking that a product might not meet your requirement because
you overlooked some important detail. For example, requiring that
a product be made from a specific material is simple and you know
that it works. But it also limits the possibilities and does not
allow the contractor to use alternative materials that may work
as well or better and at less cost. The downside from the government
engineers perspective is that if you dont require a specific
material, you have to specify a multitude of performance requirements,
such as strength, flexibility, corrosion resistance, flammability,
and many other factors. There could well be characteristics inherent
in a specific material that, if you fail to require in a performance
spec, will allow a choice of material that could result in failure.
Segments of our engineering community also did not feel comfortable
in converting MilSpecs to voluntary standards because of the fear
of not having final control over the requirements. Of course,
in reality, we still have controlif a voluntary standard, MilSpec,
or any other technical document does not meet our requirements,
we either will not use it or we will modify it in the contract.
While I doubt if MilSpec Reform was ever warmly embraced by our
engineering community, I think to a large extent, it was accepted
as necessary since there were clearly not enough resources to
maintain the technical currency of all of the detailed military
specifications and standards.
On the industry side, the reaction was definitely mixed. For those
companies whose business was entirely or largely defense, their
engineers felt very comfortable with the familiar MilSpecs. Initially,
they did not feel comfortable with our new direction. Some still
do not feel comfortable. But others have either adapted or embraced
the new design freedom they have. On the other hand, for those
companies who dealt little or not at all with the DoD, MilSpec
Reform opened up all kinds of possibilities and allowed us to
expand our supply base further into the commercial sector.
Will DoD now resume the in-house development of its MilStds/Specs?
To paraphrase Mark Twain, the rumors of the Defense Department
getting out of the specs and standards business have been greatly
exaggerated. We never stopped writing and maintaining the documents
necessary for Defense needs. Secretary Perry made it very clear
in the press conference where he first launched MilSpec reform,
there will continue to be circumstances where MilSpecs need to
be written and maintained.
It is a fact of life that the military places unique stresses
on products, must be capable of operating in unique battle environments,
and must achieve unprecedented levels of mission reliability and
readiness. That means that sometimes we will have to write specifications
to describe products that exceed the normal demands of the private
sector. We will sometimes stretch performance to the very edge
of what is possible. We will demand some degree of standardization
that may not be profitable, but which is necessary to ensure interservice
and coalition interoperability.
So, yes, we will continue to write some specs and standardsbut
only where they address truly military- unique requirements, and
to the largest extent possible, we will write these documents
in performance terms. As we continue to lose the resources we
need to maintain this kind of technical support, we will continue
to increase our reliance on the private sector and especially
on the private sector standards development community where we
can share and leverage our resources and technical expertise.
Will there be any change in how they will be developed now as
opposed to before the Reform?
A few changes: New documents will be justified by a verified need
to develop military (as opposed to voluntary) standards before
we start. They will be much more nearly performance based from
the beginning. We will continue to try to meet our standardization
needs through voluntary standards organizations to the greatest
extent possiblefor all of the reasons mentioned previously.
What role do you now see for non-government standards developing
organizations such as ASTM in meeting DoD standards needs?
Bigger! In many areas we have adopted most of the standards that
are currently available that can meet our needs. What we see now
is the need to develop standards that meet not just DoD needs,
but the needs of other government agencies as well as the needs
of other industries facing issues of high reliability, harsh environment,
and long service life. For example, the Navy worked with an ASTM
committee to develop testing standards for mechanically attached
pipe fittings in order to take advantage of a lower cost, more
efficient process [see the case study on page 20]. But an even bigger challenge for DoD, industry,
and for the voluntary standards community is how to do more with
less. There are fewer dollars, fewer people with less time, fewer
opportunities to travel to meetings. We must find ways to actually
increase the production of needed standards while simultaneously
reducing the resources and the time needed to produce them.
Does DoD exercise any control or approval over the revisions made
by SDOs to MilStds/Specs over which the SDOs now have jurisdiction?
If not, what does DoD do when the revision does not meet agency
We exercise the same control that any other participant exercisesparticipate
on the committee, vote on the document, and the option not to
use it if it doesnt meet our needs. Weve never wanted to be
anything other than an equal partner in the standards development
process. We shouldnt be given any special treatment, nor should
we be ignored. We are a part of the user community and should
not expect any special authority to approve or influence documents
simply because they originated under a DoD cover.
To what degree do international standards play a role in DoD
acquisitions and standards development activities?
Small but increasingespecially in the information technology
area. We do most of our international standards work through NATO
or other treaty organizations. But as we look to greater and greater
use of voluntary standards, and as we find ourselves in an increasingly
global marketplace to meet our defense needs, it is increasingly
important that the standards we choose to use are recognized and
respected globally. In some areas this has meant looking to ISO
and IEC for international acceptance. In many other areas we find
that both our U.S. military specs and standards, and the standards
of the standards developers with whom we participate, are de facto
international standards. They enjoy international acceptance and
benefit from international participation irrespective of where
the originator is domiciled. Almost as with automobiles, the identification
of a standard with its country of origin is beginning to lose
significance. We are more interested in standards that meet our
needs and support the U.S. industrial base than we are in where
the SDO of jurisdiction is located.
How many active MilStds/Specs exist now that MilSpec Reform is
This seems like such a simple question, but it does not have a
simple answer. When we began MilSpec Reform, we had just under
30,000 active military specs and standards. When we completed
our MilSpec Reform efforts in January 2001, we had a little over
8,000 detailed military specs and standards, which we intend to
retain for now, and about 2,400 military performance specs. But
perhaps an even better way to look at the data is to examine the
total pie of documents used in Defense acquisition [see Figure 1]. Before the beginning of reform, a full two thirds of the documents
in regular use were detailed military specs and standards, with
about 12% simplified Commercial Item Descriptions and 13% adopted
voluntary standards. At the conclusion of reform about one third
of the documents in regular use are military, 20% are CIDs, and
over a third are voluntary standards. So the pie has gotten smaller,
and the proportions of the pie have moved in the directions that
we wanted them to move.
What is DoD policy on encouraging and supporting its military
and civilian personnels participation in non-government SDOs
The DoD is a leader in both participation with non-government
standards developers, and in use of the resulting standards. The
first formally issued defense policy was issued nearly 40 years
ago and it has been department policy to participate in and use
nongovernment SDOs ever since. In the late 1970s, the OMB Circular
A-119 was developed at the suggestion of DoD participants in the
Interagency Committee on Standards Policy, and it was modeled
on the Defense policy. Today, the current administration continues
to believe strongly that it is both our responsibility, and to
our great benefit, to continue active involvement in all levels
of voluntary standards activity and to use the voluntary standards
that result from this mutually beneficial activity.
With MILSpec Reform behind you, what are some future directions
for the Defense Standardization Program?
Given that future U.S. defense budgets will continue to be constrained
and that we will increasingly need to work with allies, it is
essential that we focus on developing standards that will allow
U.S. forces to be interoperable with each other and with our allies.
There is growing emphasis on establishing standardization agreements
with our treaty organization allies to make such interoperability
possible. Sometimes these agreements are full-fledged standards,
but often times, they are simply agreements to use an existing
voluntary standard. For example, the NATO fuel standardization
agreement identifies ASTM D 3699 as one of the acceptable standards
But the world is becoming an increasingly complex place. In the
past, when the primary threat was the Soviet Union, we only had
to worry about being interoperable with a limited number of stable
allies. But given the turmoil in the world today, we are facing
situations of revolving coalitions of allies, which makes interoperability
of equipment more difficult. One way we can mitigate this difficulty
is through standards that have global use. While we may have different
motivations than those of our colleagues in industry, we are very
much in tune with the mantra of one standard, one test, worldwide.
Another major area of focus is our effort to reduce our logistics
footprint. By that, I mean reduce the mountains of supplies and
parts that our forces bring with them to conduct and sustain a
military operation. We hope to achieve this goal by improving
our logistics support information systems and by doing a better
job of standardizing spare parts, components, and equipment. One
of the reasons we take mountains of supplies is because our current
logistics support system largely uses isolated, independent, and
sometimes incompatible systems, processes, and data. Our field
commanders dont have confidence that the supplies they need halfway
around the world will be delivered in time.
What we are trying to do is develop an automated, collaborative
logistics support information system that will give field commanders
an unprecedented capability to order, monitor, and if necessary,
redirect supplies in a timely and efficient way. Getting the same
information to all of the different manufacturers, vendors, transporters,
and military units is a complex problem and one that will demand
standards to ensure we are all working toward the same solution.
The other issue of reducing the variety of parts we use across
weapon systems involves having true industry-wide standards and
doing a better job of applying those standards. Right now, we
have a situation where either there are multiple, incompatible
standards or a company chooses to use nonstandard parts. In either
case, we end up having to take countless varieties of spare parts
with us to a combat area because of this lack of standardization.
In the past, we have always allowed our program offices and contractors
to make their own decisions about using standards. While we have
no intention of taking away this flexibility, we are in the midst
of developing an automated roadmap, which will provide government
and contractor engineers with guidance on preferred, and in some
cases, mandatory standards. It is our hope that with information
readily available about the effect on logistics support, weapon
system designers will make smarter decisions when it comes to
Another relatively new standards thrust for the DoD is consortia
standards. Traditionally, we have limited our non-government standards
participation to formal consensus standards organizations. But
because of the critical need to develop and incorporate new technology
into our weapon systems as quickly as possible, we have become
involved in consortia standards organizations. We arent driving
these consortia standards organizations, but when we see industry
sectors heading in that direction, we are joining them, and in
some cases, sponsoring the necessary research and standards.
A final future direction for us is in the area of knowledge management
for standards and standardization. A few years ago, we made a
major leap forward when we began making our government specifications
and standards available over the Internet. But ultimately, we
are looking to have a one-stop, online standards information portal
where, once you enter, you never have to leave to get the information
you need. Such a portal would include:
Online access for all government specifications and standards;
Access for DoD employees to voluntary consensus standards and
Application data to determine where and how standards are being
Links to all statutory and regulatory requirements for standards;
Access to the responsible individuals or organizations that
can answer questions or address problems concerning specific standards;
Online coordination of government specifications and standards;
Hyperlinks to standards referenced in solicitations, contracts,
technical manuals, drawings, policy documents, and any place else.
Obviously, such a portal is an ambitious undertaking and not one
likely to be accomplished all at once or in the near term. But
we consider such a knowledge management system to be essential
and every year we will be a few steps closer to achieving this
Copyright 2001, ASTM