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Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) are publicly announced standardizations developed by the United States federal government for use in computer systems by all non-military government agencies and by government contractors, when properly invoked and tailored on a contract. Many FIPS pronouncements are modified versions of standards used in the technical communities, such as the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). The purpose of FIPS is to ensure that all federal government and agencies adhere to the same guidelines regarding security and communication.
The U.S. government developed many FIPS pronouncements to standardize codes: for instance, standards for encoding data (such as country codes), but more significantly some encryption standards, such as the Data Encryption Standard (FIPS 46-3) and the Advanced Encryption Standard (FIPS 197)
In 1994 NOAA began broadcasting coded signals called FIPS (Federal Information Processing System) codes along with their standard weather-broadcasts from local stations. These codes identify the type of emergency and the specific geographic area, such as a county, affected by the emergency.
Some examples of FIPS Codes for geographical areas include FIPS 10-4 for country codes or region codes and FIPS 5-2 for state codes. These codes were similar to or comparable with, but not the same as, ISO 3166, or the NUTS standard of the European Union. In 2002, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) withdrew several geographic FIPS code standards, including those for countries (FIPS 10-4), U.S. states (FIPS 5-2), and counties (FIPS 6-4). These are to be replaced by ISO 3166 and INCITS standards 38 and 31, respectively. Some of the codes maintain the previous numerical system, particularly for states.
In 2008, NIST withdrew the FIPS 55-3 database. This database included 5-digit numeric place codes for cities, towns, and villages, or other centers of population in the United States. The codes were assigned alphabetically to places within each state, and as a result changed frequently in order to maintain the alphabetical sorting. NIST replaced these codes with the more permanent GNIS Feature ID, maintained by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names. The GNIS database is the official geographic names repository database for the United States, and is designated the only source of geographic names and locative attributes for use by the agencies of the Federal Government. FIPS 8-6 "Metropolitan Areas" and 9-1 "Congressional Districts of the U.S." were also withdrawn in 2008, to be replaced with INCITS standards 454 and 455, respectively.
The U.S. Census Bureau used FIPS place codes database to identify legal and statistical entities for county subdivisions, places, and American Indian areas, Alaska Native areas, or Hawaiian home lands when they needed to present census data for these areas. In response to the NIST decision, the Census Bureau is in the process of transitioning over to the GNIS Feature ID, which will be completed after the 2010 Census. Until then, previously issued FIPS place codes, renamed "Census Code," will continue to be used, with the Census bureau assigning new codes as needed for their internal use during the transition.