What’s in a Number? The Fed Spec Numbering System

What’s in a number?  For folks familiar with specs and standards, the answer is “A lot!”  The Fed Spec numbering system is a good example of this.  Fed Spec numbers have a lot of meaning packed into a small amount of space.  And once you see this example of how engineers number the standards they develop, you’re sure to see more hidden meanings in the other standards you use.

First, what is a Fed Spec?  This is a common term for Federal Specifications.  These documents are “owned” by the GSA, the U.S. General Services Administration.  These folks are responsible for procurement at the Federal level of our government.  So they have a need for specifications to reference in their contracts much the same of the Department of Defense does.

Since the government specs and standards programs have been in place for many decades, they pre-date the public use of the Internet.  If fact, they predate the use of computers and networks completely.  Many specs and standards have been generated over the years for use in government procurement.  And back in the days of paper records, the need for ways to streamline finding documents necessary for contracts was acute.

For Fed Spec Numbering, a schema was developed to keep “like” specifications together.  This was done by a letter system that segregated specifications by commodity group.  Thus a contracting officer looking for specifications on textile products could go directly to that section of the specifications on the subject.

How is this “pre-sort” done?  Document numbers start with specific sets of letters for each commodity group.  There can be 1 to 3 letters at the beginning of the document number.  Each set of letters is for 1 commodity.  After the pre-designated number string, there is a hyphen and then the first letter of the title of the document.  Then there is another hyphen and the actual numeric designation.

So let’s take a look at some examples:

M-D-2798, Dinnerware, China (Decorated)

In this case, “M” is for the commodity group ceramics, “D” is the first letter of the title, and “2798” is the numeric component.

QQ-A-1876, Aluminum Foil

Here, the “QQ” part of the number is for metals, and many important Fed Specs for metals used to be in this section (most are now withdrawn).  The “A” is the first letter of the title, and the “1876” is the numeric string.

PPP-B-1606, Box, Fiberboard Special Use (Post Office Money Order Forms)

Another favorite designation – The “PPP” covers packaging and packing.  There used to be a “PPP” number on the bottom of most cardboard boxes!  The “B” is the first letter of “Box,” and “1606” is the numeric string.  Here you can see some of the scope of work for the GSA purchasing agents — They provide support for the post office!

So now you can see that the string of letters at the head of a Fed Spec number can be 1, 2, or 3 letters.  They are always a set of the same letter — there is no “ABA” or another other combined string.  And each covers a general subject area.  The complete list of available letter strings and their commodity coverage is available for you at the bottom of this post.

When you work with a set of standards from a single source, you may likely find “hidden meanings” in those numbers as well.  If you have a document set that you need help with, please get in touch.  And if you are having difficulties finding a particular standard, please contact our Document Center staff.  We’re available by phone (650-591-7600) and email (info@document-center.com).  But first, you may want to search for your problem standard at our webstore, www.document-center.com.  We have over 1 million standards available there.

List of Fed Spec Number Classes

We’ve been working with compliance documentation since 1982.  I hope you’ll make us your Standards Experts!

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Claudia Bach

Claudia Bach is the President of Document Center Inc. and a world-wide recognized expert on Standards and Standards Distribution. You can connect with her on Google+

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