Trying to shove the metric system down America's throat back in the 1970s produced a nationwide gag. So this time, the Commerce Dept. is offering a sweeter deal: Learning to measure in millimeters instead of inches won't be mandatory--unless you want to sell something to the federal government.
Soon, Uncle Sam's business will be conducted exclusively in metrics. Since Washington is the biggest customer for just about everything, few corporations will be able to dodge the switch. Already, new federal buildings are being designed with metric specifications. And by 1996, highway construction funded by Washington also will use metric units. The American public can drag its feet for as long as it wants, says Gary Carver, who heads the metric push at Commerce, but it's essential that business adopt metrics rapidly. Sticking with inch/pound measures, he adds, just gives other countries an excuse to discriminate against U.S. products.