In a brief footnote to history, I note with sadness that Congressman Jack Brooks has died. He had a long and interesting career as a Congressman from Texas and in the process shaped the face of standards and standardization as we now know it. He is mourned by his colleagues and friends.
I never met Jack Brooks, but I owe him – and his ideas – a great deal and probably, my career and interest in standardization. Jack Brooks was the author of Public Law 89-306 (Brooks Act), dated October 30, 1965, H.R.4845, which established the rules and requirements for buying “…any equipment or interconnected system or subsystems of equipment that is used in the automatic acquisition, storage, manipulation, management, movement, control, display, switching, interchange, transmission, or reception of data or information…”
To make sure that what the government bought was “interconnectable” (since interoperable was still just a pipe dream), the Act further required that the National Bureau of Standards promulgate standards and guidelines “necessary to improve the efficiency of operation or security and privacy of Federal computer systems.”
This Act made standards and standardization a central feature of Federal procurement from 1965 on. Not only did prime contractors have to meet these standards, but all the participants down the supply chain did as well. This was significant, since the Federal government was the largest single purchaser of information technology in the world. From NASA to the Social Security Administration, from the Department of Education (another Brooks accomplishment) to the National Weather service, systems began to become “interconnectable.” Proprietary hardware (for that was the emphasis at the time) was slowly moved to interconnected and “plug compatible” systems.
The development and creation of a whole theory of business rationale and strategic planning necessary for standards was a “green field” area and was rather challenging – and ultimately led to where we are today – with a vast and complex set of inter-relations between trade, business, politics, economics, jurisprudence, and social planning.
I doubt that Jack Brooks saw this far or anticipated the extent to which his Act would change the face of computing. He was a hard-headed realist who wanted to save the government money. But by driving standards into the procurement of Government systems, Jack Brooks changed the face of the IT industry by making technical standards necessary. And when that happened, all of the ancillary business activity, from legal basis to strategic implications to marketing to social use followed in its wake. This is one of Jack Brooks’ unsung but tremendously powerful legacies.