A number of quantitative assays have been developed by using amplification techniques to measure human immunodeficiency virus type 1 RNA in the plasma of infected individuals. The Virology Committee of the AIDS Clinical Trials Group in the Division of AIDS, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has established a quality assurance program (QAP) for quantitative assays of HIV-1 RNA levels in plasma. The primary objective of the QAP was to ascertain that a laboratory could maintain the precision required to have a 90% power to detect a fivefold difference in RNA copy number between two samples in the same batch. To achieve this goal, the QAP required an intra-assay standard deviation of no greater than 0.15 log10 RNA copies per ml. Panels for proficiency testing consisted of coded replicate samples and a common set of standards. To date, 41 laboratories have participated in the program and have used both commercial and in-house assays. We demonstrated that 65% of the laboratories were capable of attaining the necessary level of intra-assay precision. The fitted regressions indicated that the differences among laboratories that used the same kit were generally greater than the differences among population- average regressions for the kits themselves. The use of an external QAP and a common set of standards reduced differences both among laboratories that used the same kit and among laboratories that used different kits. Thus, use of a common set of standards across clinical trial protocols would allow for cross-protocol comparisons.