In the last issue of SN, we began the discussion of the excesses that exist in our standards system. We talked about redundancy and conflicts. We talked about too many standards and too many standards organizations. We talked about the waste and how expensive it is to have our energies scattered and our solutions handed to us piecemeal.
Who's responsible for this situation? Standards organizations? Yes, in part. Are they addressing it? Yes, in part. ASTM, for example, has executed a memorandum of understanding with SAE. We've agreed to work together with SAE to identify areas of overlap. ASTM formed a joint committee with IEEE to produce one metric guide out of two. ASTM is in constant communication on this subject with organizations like ASME, NFPA, and UL, organizations with whom we've worked for years. We find solutions where we can. And what about ANSI? Isn't coordination part of its responsibility? Yes, it is. And ANSI is doing what it can.
Why, then, with SDOs and ANSI all working on the problem, is it still a problem? And why is it getting worse? Let's go back to our previous article for a moment. Let's go back to where we talked about America and how we are free to create whatever standards we want and with whom we want. There's the answer. In the United States, neither the management staffs of SDOs, nor ANSI, nor the government can dictate anything to people who voluntarily write standards. That's our basic credo. It is a key principle of our consensus system. And we've said over and over again that we're not going to change it.
Can we change our situation then? Absolutely. We can change our system into whatever we want it to be. But we need to be clear about who makes the standards decisions that can bring about that change. That crucial decision-making power belongs to-and has always belonged to-the people who write standards. The people who create whatever standards they want with whom they want. The volunteers.
How can this change be brought about? Why not bring it about the same way as we develop our standards, voluntarily and together? We can get our standards business in order-within our companies and within our government agencies-so that we are not working at odds internally. Up front, we can find out whether or not what we need already exists. We can be honest about our reasons for initiating new activities when they mimic existing ones. If the reasons aren't credible, we can abandon them. We can be vigilant and forthright about our dissatisfactions with our traditional processes and our standards organizations and those traditional processes and standards organizations can be responsive and committed to change. We've got to do it, because as long as we have a free market system, there will be no one here who can force us to change for the better. We've got to change on our own. It's not the easy way out. It's the responsible thing to do.
James A. Thomas
President, ASTM International
Copyright 1999, ASTM International