The Lasting Legacy of Mil Spec Reform

There are some topics that just won’t go away and Mil Spec Reform seems to be one of them!  The changes made by Secretary Perry in 1994 still ripple throughout the standards community.  And I still get questions about what standards to use that lead back to this historic transformation.

Mil Spec Reform started in the mid-1990’s as part of the DoD’s cost-cutting measures.  It was kicked off by a memo by Secretary Perry in July of 1994.  The memo directed the DoD (Department of Defense) to withdraw mil specs and standards whenever possible in favor of industry standards.  It revamped many of the conventions used during procurement.  And it cited not only cost savings but also adherence to industry norms and access to advanced technologies as reasons for the changes.

The first evidence of the extent of the proposed changes came with the release of the “Hot 105 List.”  This list was a compilation of the specs and standards deemed not only unnecessary but also to cost the U.S. government the most money.  Many of the most widely-used standards were on that list — the MIL-STD-105, MIL-STD-45662, and so on.  Of course, as these documents were withdrawn, industry was in shock! The publications were used not only for military procurement but also for many commercial transactions.

Mil Spec reform did go through. Changes have been extensive within the military, both in procurement processes and in documentation support.  Let’s take a look at some of the lasting impacts.

  1.  Mil Specs and Standards cancelled during this period have been replaced in many cases by industry standards.  And some of those standards are direct adoptions of the military documents themselves by various industry standards developing organizations (SDOs).  So for example, you will see many SAE standards that contain elements of the Mil Specs and Standards they replaced.  Samples are AMS-STD-595 for Federal colors and AMS-STD-2154 for ultrasonic inspection of wrought metals.
  2. Government participation in industry standards development has risen.  Many organizations have developed standards that not only meet commercial requirements but account for government needs as well.  So standardization has bridged the gap between the needs of these two groups in many cases.
  3. The DoD has achieved a reduction in the cost of it’s standardization program.  It no longer needs to certify its suppliers — third parties are now hired for quality and other compliance certifications.  And for the military, the cost of purchasing industry standards is far less than the cost of writing and maintaining a separate system specifically for their own needs.
  4. The cost to industry has risen.  Under the old system, the exclusive use of mil specs and standards was very inexpensive.  The documentation was basically paid for by taxpayer dollars.  However, with reform came an increased cost for suppliers.  Industry standards come with a price tag, sometimes a rather steep one!  And the costs of certification can be expensive as well.
  5. There continues to be some confusion about what documentation to use now that most of the popular Mil Specs and Standards are withdrawn.  This is in part due to the fact that the industry standards collection is far more diverse than the DoD one.  So for example, when trying to determine what should be used in place of the MIL-STD-45662, you have a choice between and ISO standard and an ANSI one.  You’ll have to either depend on contracts to point the way for you or make an evaluation of both documents to determine what is best for your organization.

Mil Spec Reform has an on-going legacy.  It has allowed for huge improvements within the DoD.  It has supported the use of advanced technologies to protect our forces in the field.  It has made the military more cost-effective.  And it has pushed many commercial organizations into the use of industry documentation.

If you have questions about the migration path for any of the obsolete mil specs and standards, please get in touch.  You can reach us by phone (650-591-7600) and email (  Some documents do not have a clear path, but many do.  We’ll be happy to help you follow the trail where ever possible.  For a more complete discussion of Mil Spec Reform itself, take a look at Richard Shertzer’s article on the subject.  It’s an in-depth analysis of the process.

And you may just want to look up the obsolete publication at our webstore,  We have a catalog of over 1 million publications for you to browse and order from.  Many withdrawn documents have replacement information in the bibliographic record.

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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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