Standards Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. What is a standard?

A standard is a technical document designed to be used as a rule, guideline or definition for common and repeated use.

Standards might include requirements and/or recommendations for products, systems, processes or services. They might describe a measurement or test method or establish common terminology so that there is no misunderstanding among users.

Q. What are the benefits of standards?

Access to Web-based geospatial information depends on standards that cut down on time to find information, combine different information layers, and share information on remote servers.

Standards harmonize technical specifications of products and services and make industry more efficient; optimize operations to improve the bottom line; improve quality; enhance customer satisfaction and increase sales; prevent trade barriers and open up global markets; increase productivity and competitive advantage; and benefit users by reducing costs and enhancing performance.

International standards facilitate international trade by ensuring compatibility and interoperability of components, products and services.

Q. Who are required to use standards?

Federal agencies are required to use FGDC-endorsed standards per OMB Circular A-16.

Non-Federal organizations are not required to use FGDC-endorsed standards, except when doing business with Federal agencies; however, they are encouraged to use FGDC-endorsed to promote data sharing, integration, and interoperability.

Q. Does the FGDC coordinate with other geospatial standardization activities?


OMB Circular A-119 directs Federal agencies to use voluntary consensus standards in lieu of government-unique standards except where inconsistent with law or otherwise impractical.

OMB Circular A-119 encourages Federal agencies to participate in voluntary consensus standards bodies so that standards meet both public and private sector needs. Federal agency representatives participate in voluntary consensus standards bodies to minimize development or maintenance of Government-unique standards. Participation ensures that government interests are represented in and influence development of standards.

Public Law 104-113, the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act of 1995, codified policies in OMB Circular A-119.

You may find out about other geospatial standardization activities under the ORGANIZATIONS section on the standards home page.

Q. How do I find standards?

  • Visit the FIND STANDARDS section on the standards home page for finding FGDC-endorsed standards.

  • The ANSI eStandards Store enables you to search for standards from ANSI, ISO, IEC, ASTM and other standards publishers and purchase standards online with a major credit card or deposit account.

  • You may find Open Geospatial Consortium standards and best practices through   While OGC standards are free of charge, they are copyrighted.

Q. Why must I pay for standards from ANSI, ISO, IEC, ASTM and other standards publishers?

Sales of standards provide support for standards development, support for standards users, intellectual property and commercial value issues, and electronic dissemination.

For more information, see Why Charge for Standards?  from ANSI.  

Q. How may I participate in FGDC geospatial standardization activities?

If you would like to keep up to date on FGDC standards activities and meetings, please contact the FGDC Standards Coordinator.

FGDC Standards Coordinator
Julie Binder Maitra
Phone: 703-648-4627

Q. How are standards developed?

Standards are developed through sharing knowledge and building consensus among technical experts who are nominated by interested parties and stakeholders.

Various standards processes share these steps:

  • Create a proposal for a new standards project
  • Review proposal
  • Create working draft
  • Create committee draft once project team comes to consensus
  • Issue draft for wider review and comment
  • Resolve comments
  • Prepare final draft based on resolution of comments
  • Obtain approval for final draft for publication

Standards processes are often iterative.

Q. Why does the FGDC metadata standard have such high visibility?

Executive Order 12906, signed by President Clinton on April 11, 1994,  explicitly called upon Federal agencies to document new geospatial data collected or produced, either directly or indirectly, using the FGDC metadata standard that was then under development and making metadata accessible online. It also called upon agencies to adopt a schedule, “developed in consultation with the FGDC, for documenting, to the extent practicable, geospatial data previously collected and making that data documentation accessible online.”

Thus the high visibility of the FGDC metadata standard can be traced back over 20 years.  The FGDC has a Metadata Coordinator on its staff to coordinate metadata standards development, maintenance and implementation.  The FGDC metadata standard is the only standard that is maintained by FGDC staff.

For more information about the FGDC metadata standard, including migration to ISO metadata standards, please visit the FGDC metadata pages.

Q. How can I track the progress on particular standards?

There are several ways to track progress on particular standards:

Monthly standards update

Since February 2011, the FGDC Standards Coordinator has maintained a log that tracks progress on standards from FGDC, INCITS Technical Committee L1, ISO Technical Committee 211, the Open Geospatial Consortium, and other organizations. The standards log is updated monthly. It currently covers over 300 standards.

The latest standards update includes updates from previous months. To find the latest standards update, visit the the RESOURCES section on the standards home page and select Monthly Standards Update.


Requests for comments and publication of standards are posted under News / Announcements on the standards home page.