A bit of history was made in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 9 and 10. It will never make the evening news, but some members of the U.S. standards community did something remarkable. We got together to discuss a National Standards Strategy. That in itself wasn't remarkable. We've done that before. What made it remarkable was the level of understanding and cooperation we reached together. At the end of the day, it felt like we were capable of getting our act together.
The events leading up to this workshop began when the director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Ray Kammer, in a statement to the board of directors of ANSI, called for a National Standards Strategy. Following his statement, NIST and ANSI co-hosted a standards summit conference in September 1998, called "Toward a National Standards Strategy to Meet Global Needs." Finally, ANSI's board assigned the task to its National Issues Committee (NIC). The NIC in turn formed a task force and I was pleased to be asked to chair the group. After a few false starts, we decided to hold a workshop that would include members of the task force and other key interested parties. NIST and ASTM co-hosted the meeting and engaged a professional facilitator to guide us through the process.
The first thing we did was to ask ourselves, "Is there a need for a National Standards Strategy?" The consensus of the group was yes. We then embarked on the task of trying to discover and agree on overarching goals for such a strategy. We shared our expectations. We looked at our system, its processes, policies, and politics. We identified some common concerns, tried our hand at analyzing those concerns, and made an amazing discovery.
We discovered that the standards community in the country may be more cohesive, more cooperative, and more dedicated to the same ideals and goals than we ever suspected. We were able to see the strengths within our system, strengths that we wanted to support, enhance, and share with others. We were also able to see the obstacles that inhibit us and prevent us from being more effective and competitive. We acknowledged our obligation to interact effectively with the world standards community. As we went through one issue after another, we were able to see ourselves as diverse, not divisive. We seemed to be finding a voice. A national voice.
We have a way to go yet. We will report our progress to the National Issues Committee and meet again. We will have to continue what we started and decide how best to articulate and disseminate our findings and recommendations to a wider audience. There is a lot to do before we can say we have formulated a National Standards Strategy. But there is a new wind blowing through our community, a new energy, an emerging vision of who we are and what we want for our future. Not a bad way to start a new millennium.
James A. Thomas
President, ASTM International
Copyright 1999, ASTM International