National Stock Number Discussion

Since Governments are so vast and comprised of hundreds of agencies, departments, and units, organization is key. This is especially true when it comes to government contracting. One of the numerous ways governments streamline and standardize the procurement process is with National Stocking Numbers (NSNs) also known as NATO Stock Numbers and Federal Stock Numbers.

NSNs are a critical component of government procurement because they were created to reduce duplicate items in the government inventory and standardize requirements for performance, quality control, and testing. Although you may have heard of NSNs before, you might have questions like: how do I read the NSN format, how is an NSN assigned, or how can I find NSN data? Let’s go over everything you need to know about NSNs.

National Stocking Numbers (NSNs) are used to identify and manage every physical supply item you could imagine, including tires, aircraft parts, hammers, and lightbulbs. Each item's unique NSN is linked in a structured database to information about the name, price, physical/performance characteristics, manufacturer, and dimensions among other things.

NSNs are officially recognized by the U.S. Government, NATO, and several other Governments internationally, making it a universal catalog system. Each year, the US Department of Defense (DoD), other US Federal Agencies and NATO Countries use NSNs to procure more than a trillion US Dollars of products.


Before NSNs existed, different names were often given to the same items, making it difficult for agencies to locate supplies or share items of supply and causing duplication of inventory. During times of great need like World War II, a lot of products were depleted while others were in surplus and it was decided that a Master Planning System must be created to organize and improve the efficiency of future procurement.

NSNs were created by the US Government to keep everyone on the same page—they form a standardized classification system that eliminates discrepancies. Today, NSNs are used to identify and manage 17 million active products in the US Federal Logistics Information System (FLIS) and a further 20 million products managed in the database by NATO countries other than the USA, and other countries.

Furthermore, historical data is maintained for items which are no longer active. The system allows the intricate management of any item of supply from cradle to grave, even determining the "sensitivity" of the product in terms of national security and how surplus can be disposed of - by sale or destruction.

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