U.S. Government Introduces the Baldrige Award Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The institution of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award created a way for the U.S. government to recognize American companies for their efforts to improve quality and identified models of quality to be followed.

Summary of Event

On August 20, 1987, the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Improvement Act of 1987 (Public Law 100-107) was signed into law as an amendment to the Stevenson-Wydler Technology Act of 1980. The 1987 act established the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, which was named for Malcolm Baldrige, U.S. secretary of commerce during Ronald Reagan’s presidential administration, from 1981 to 1987. Baldrige had died in a rodeo accident earlier in 1987. The award program created in his name was to be administered by a public-private partnership. It was not to be subsidized by the government; rather, financial support would come from the Foundation for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award and from award application fees. [kw]U.S. Government Introduces the Baldrige Award (Aug. 20, 1987) [kw]Government Introduces the Baldrige Award, U.S. (Aug. 20, 1987) [kw]Baldrige Award, U.S. Government Introduces the (Aug. 20, 1987) [kw]Award, U.S. Government Introduces the Baldrige (Aug. 20, 1987) Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award [g]North America;Aug. 20, 1987: U.S. Government Introduces the Baldrige Award[06530] [g]United States;Aug. 20, 1987: U.S. Government Introduces the Baldrige Award[06530] [c]Business and labor;Aug. 20, 1987: U.S. Government Introduces the Baldrige Award[06530] [c]Trade and commerce;Aug. 20, 1987: U.S. Government Introduces the Baldrige Award[06530] [c]Manufacturing and industry;Aug. 20, 1987: U.S. Government Introduces the Baldrige Award[06530] Baldrige, Malcolm Deming, W. Edwards Juran, Joseph M.

The award was expected to help improve productivity and quality in American business and industry in several ways. By providing the incentive of high-profile public recognition, the award would stimulate American companies to improve their quality and productivity, which would enable them to obtain a competitive edge while at the same time increasing profits. In addition, the winning companies would stand as examples for others. The award application and review process in itself would be educational and would provide enterprises with insight. Also, business, industrial, governmental, and other organizations could use the guidelines and criteria for the award in evaluating their own efforts to improve quality. Finally, by making available detailed information on how they were able to change their cultures and obtain results, the winning organizations would provide specific guidance for other American firms.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology National Institute of Standards and Technology, U.S. (NIST) was made responsible for administration of the Baldrige Award, and in 1991 the American Society for Quality Control American Society for Quality Control (ASQC) was granted a contract to administer the award. Under NIST leadership, the award program remained true to the vision set forth in the enabling act.

Each year up to six applicants can receive the Baldrige Award: two from manufacturing, two from service, and two from small business. In order to apply for the award, a company must submit a written application report to the examining committee. In this application, the company must document its customer-driven business practices in the following seven categories, which are weighted as noted in the judging: leadership (90 points), information and analysis (80 points), strategic quality planning (60 points), human resource development and management (150 points), management of process quality (140 points), quality and operational results (180 points), and customer focus and satisfaction (300 points). The company application is first independently reviewed by at least five members of the board of examiners; this is followed by a joint, or consensus, review involving at least five members of the board. At the conclusion of the consensus review, the panel of judges determines whether the applicant should remain in the competition and be given a site review.

At least five members of the board of examiners visit each applicant granted a site review in order to verify the application report. The site-review team then prepares a report for the panel of judges. The panel of judges reviews all site reports and makes recommendations regarding award recipients to the director of the NIST. Finally, the director of the NIST and the U.S. secretary of commerce jointly determine whether the recommended recipients are also worthy role models, using Internal Revenue Service checks, environmental and public health compliance records, information from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and visits to police, district attorneys, and courts in the recipients’ local jurisdictions. When the recipients have been chosen, the president of the United States presents the awards at a special ceremony in Washington, D.C. Feedback reports are provided to all applicants at the close of the award cycle.

Winners who accept the Baldrige Award are obligated to share information about their quality successes with others. One way in which firms meet this obligation is through participation in the annual Quest for Quality conference. Quest for Quality conference Winners can also provide information through their own resources. Most winners are eager to tell their stories, but some companies choose to limit their activities to the required conference presentation. Because of the tremendous level of outside interest in the awards, full accommodation of the public’s desire for information can be a significant burden for many of the winners.


Soon after it was established, the Baldrige Award became recognized as the preeminent and most highly coveted award for excellence that any U.S. business could earn. The companies that receive trophies are not the only winners in each Baldrige cycle—those that improve their services, products, or processes as a result of insights they gained through the application and examination process are also winners. Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Improvement Act (1987) Stevenson-Wydler Technology Act (1980)[Stevenson Wydler Technology Act] Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award

The Baldrige Award was conceived in the midst of what has been referred to as the second industrial revolution and as the quality revolution. During this time, individuals who had insights regarding quality improvement were placed in the national spotlight. W. Edwards Deming and Joseph M. Juran, who had been instrumental in helping the Japanese to improve their industrial quality systems, were hailed as quality gurus. The “total quality management” Total quality management philosophy promoted by these individuals and supported by others such as Phillip B. Crosby and Armand V. Feigenbaum gained widespread acceptance in American business.

Corporations learned to change the way they did business. Mission statements were rewritten to include the concept of constant dedication to the improvement of quality rather than a focus on financial return, which could change on the basis of the economic cycle and numerous other variables. Customer satisfaction became a key element in the definition of quality, replacing an internal focus on product specifications. Every person in an organization—rather than only those who work in its quality-control department—came to be seen as critical to the quality performance of the organization. A focus on operations, on improvement of processes as well as products, was seen as central to business performance. Quality became the new measure of business performance. The dominance of focus on short-term financial results in American business was broken.

The success of the Baldrige Award program is to some extent a result of the climate in which the award was conceived. The award program reflected the focus of the business world at the time of its inception. Further, the award program filled a void. It made available appropriate top-level, high-profile public recognition of those enterprises that were quality exemplars.

Many companies came to see the process of preparing the Baldrige application as an appropriate method for strategically assessing their opportunities for quality improvement. This may be the largest impact of the award program. Both public and private enterprises began to use the Baldrige criteria in their strategic planning and as a means of identifying ways in which they could simultaneously improve quality, reduce costs, and improve competitiveness. The award criteria helped companies to focus quality-improvement efforts by helping them recognize that quality definitions and improvement processes should be related directly to customer satisfaction; that strategic leadership is required for sustained quality improvement; that employee involvement is a key factor in quality improvement; that decision making by all employees should rely on pertinent information, which must be made available; that product improvement and process improvement go hand in hand; and that quality results are measurable.

The Baldrige Award has remained true to the vision of its creators. It has promoted quality awareness in all sectors of the American economy: public and private organizations, small and large businesses, and manufacturing and service enterprises. It has improved the understanding of Americans as to the requirements for quality excellence. It also has provided a mechanism for the sharing of information on successful strategies for quality improvement and the benefits derived from the implementation of these strategies.

It is fair to say that enterprises within the United States became more competitive internationally as a result of the quality revolution of the 1980’s. The Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award was one significant element of this quality revolution. Its value can be found in the high-profile reinforcement provided to the quality ethic and companies that have acted on it. The award program should be recognized as only one part of the quality revolution; its impact should be interpreted in the context of the wide array of events that have focused attention on improving competitiveness through quality improvement. Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"


    Award Winning Quality: Strategies from the Winners of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 1992. Brief volume provides an in-depth look at the Baldrige Award in the first chapter, including scoring guidelines, scoring criteria, examiner selection, and motivation for the award. Four later chapters profile the quality-related efforts of the award winners from 1988 through 1991, and the final chapter profiles other companies in an effort to demonstrate the usefulness of the application process in structuring quality-improvement efforts, regardless of the ultimate disposition of the award.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Crosby, Philip B. Quality Is Still Free: Making Quality Certain in Uncertain Times. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996. Updated version of the author’s widely read classic 1975 work Quality Is Free. Details the Crosby program for continuous improvement of quality.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gitlow, Howard S., and Shelly J. Gitlow. The Deming Guide to Quality and Competitive Position. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1987. Provides a summary of the Deming philosophy, with a full chapter of coverage for each of Deming’s fourteen points. Of special value to the relatively new student of quality is a listing of articles, books, and videotapes pertinent to the study of quality.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jablonski, Joseph R. Implementing TQM: Competing in the Nineties Through Total Quality Management. 2d ed. Albuquerque, N.Mex.: Technical Management Consortium, 1992. Presents a five-phase approach to implementing total quality management. Especially valuable for businesses at the start-up stage.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ross, Joel E. Total Quality Management: Text, Cases, and Readings. 3d ed. Boca Raton, Fla.: CRC Press, 1999. Text designed primarily for use in academic settings. Organized according to the criteria for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, with a chapter of descriptive text, readings, and cases for each criterion as well as introductory material for readers unfamiliar with the award.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Shetty, Y. K., and Vernon M. Buehler, eds. The Quest for Competitiveness: Lessons from America’s Productivity and Quality Leaders. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1991. Collection of papers presented at Utah State University’s student-managed Partners Program seminars in the period 1979-1989. Many contributors emphasize that the improvement of quality control and productivity in the United States relies on teamwork between management and labor. Includes bibliography and index.

Retailers Control Inventory Shrinkage with Computer Technology

American Firms Adopt Japanese Manufacturing Strategies

CAD/CAM Revolutionizes Engineering and Manufacturing

Peters Gains Prominence as a Writer on Management

Categories: History Content