On any given day, at any given time, someone somewhere is using an ASTM International standard. They may be on a construction site, in a laboratory, writing a contract or on an assembly line. For these on-the-ground users, quality, relevance and technical content are what matter most, and these are the criteria against which they measure a standard’s worth.
The criteria change, however, when standards are used as the basis of regulation. It becomes more complex. The selection of a standard for the formulation of public policy requires an understanding of its technical capabilities, but it may also require knowledge of the process by which it has been developed and some analysis of whether or not it will pose a barrier to trade. Such a standard may be required to show evidence of a reasonable expectation of compliance; a regulator may have to produce a rationale for its use. This standard must stand up to public scrutiny for its effects will be considerable and, in many cases, mandatory.
What assistance, then, does ASTM International offer these users? To those who govern with standards, and to those who are governed by standards, ASTM provides, first and foremost, a forum where regulators and those they regulate can come as equals and as partners to discuss, negotiate and develop the standards that will fit the criteria posed by both. ASTM International is an active participant in congressional and regulatory proceedings. It acts as counsel to public officials everywhere, offering information and insights into the standardization process and on the use of standards in public policy. But perhaps the most effective service to this special category of users is the one provided on a day-to-day, case-by-case basis by ASTM’s Washington office, members and headquarters staff: assistance in using standards to achieve trade, legislative or regulatory objectives. It is what we call outreach, and it happens on a global basis, from world capitals to small villages.
With this in mind, we held the April meeting of the ASTM International board of directors in Washington, D.C. In one full day of outreach visits, our board members and staff took part in over 50 meetings with the White House (USTR, OSTP, and OMB1), the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee and government regulatory agencies. (For a full report, please click here.) Our international board members met with business councils and diplomats at the embassies of Brazil, Germany, Japan and the European Union. There were meetings with consumer advocacy groups, code bodies and trade associations. Twenty-five key Washington officials joined the board for dinner, among them Ambassador Shaun Donnelly of the National Association of Manufacturers and James H. Turner Jr., the 2008 Ronald H. Brown Standards Leadership Award winner. Fifty other Washington-based guests joined us for a reception the following night.
Why did we make such a huge effort? What was our objective? ASTM International has long had good, solid relationships with industry and government leaders. Our outreach day was a continuation of that commitment, raised to another level and multiplied considerably. The ASTM board of directors is an impressive group of industry and government executives with responsibilities in global standardization, including the standards executive for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the director of the Defense Standardization Program Office at the U.S. Department of Defense, the directors general of the national standards bodies of Brazil and Germany, a former president of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the director of Mattel/Fisher-Price worldwide product safety, the chief scientist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and other experts who have a deep understanding of the ASTM International standardization process. We made this effort because it would connect those impressive credentials and the ASTM experience with industry leaders, policy makers and a new administration that has shown considerable interest in research, science and technology projects. It was also an extraordinary opportunity to learn firsthand about emerging needs and trends so that they can be matched with ASTM International’s current program initiatives.
Our directors and staff left a large imprint of this organization in one of the greatest capitals in the world and in turn, came away better informed and brimming with ideas and plans. It was a good day all around.
James A. Thomas
President, ASTM International
1. USTR: Office of the United States Trade Representative; OSTP: Office of Science and Technology Policy; OMB: Office of Management and Budget.