There are too many standards and too many standards organizations in this country. That seems to be the consensus. It is said that our standards system is increasingly difficult to deal with. It's become murky and opaque. There are some parts of it that are actually counterproductive. It's not good for business.
Is this just carping, or is it an argument that has merit?
This is America, after all. We pride ourselves on our market-driven economy. We like the idea of being able to create the standards we want when we want them, and with whom we choose. It's a wonderful system that doesn't exist anywhere else in the world. It is better to be able to create what you want when you want it than to be restricted. It is better to have too many choices than too few, and it is better to determine your own fate than to be dictated to. That, however, isn't the issue.
The issue is whether or not we are creating a standards system-because we have the freedom to do so-that is confusing, costly, impractical, and inefficient. Undoubtedly, there are situations where the answer to this question is going to be yes. Perhaps a more important question to ask, then, is "Why?" Why, with the number of standards organizations in this country to choose from, would anyone want to create more? Why would we want to create duplicative, conflicting standards that end up being just bits and pieces of the solutions we're looking for?
Why not? If we wanted to avoid the rigors of consensus, for example, that's exactly what we'd do. If we wanted to create our very own look-alike version of a standards activity in which we could assert control over the process, we're free to do so. But is that the way we want to go? We've set the standard for the whole world for openness and full consensus. Standards development by full consensus may not always be appropriate for every class of standard, but when it is, we do it right. We've come a long way in the United States, and our standards have built a vibrant economy that is the envy of the world. But we didn't do it by compromising our principles. We struggled with our frustrations and fought hard to fix what was broken. We have worked, and will continue to work, to make our system what we want it to be. We never took the easy way out. We never took any way out. There are many reasons why we have this present plethora of standards activities. We need to take a serious look at them and decide what our future is going to look like. I hope it's one in which we are working together, creating only those standards that are needed and that serve us in the best possible way.
James A. Thomas
President, ASTM International
We can't approach this subject in a short magazine article in a way that is anything but simplistic. However, we do think it is important enough to devote more than one article to. I am inviting you, therefore, to continue this discussion with us in the September issue of SN. We will tell you, among other things, what we at ASTM are doing to address this problem and how we are working with others to reduce the amount of wasted energy and resources this proliferation is costing us. Stay tuned.
Copyright 1999, ASTM International