An Interview with American National Standards Institute President and CEO S. Joe Bhatia
In your 35-year tenure with Underwriters Laboratories, you had wide-ranging experience, especially in global business operations. What did you bring from UL that has informed your first year as president of ANSI? How will this help to shape your goals and priorities for the future?
My many years at UL provided the opportunity for me to learn about the business of standardization and conformity assessment and its impact on the global marketplace. I gained a hands-on understanding of the development, adoption and use of voluntary standards and technical regulations, as well as their related compliance activities. I also acquired an appreciation for the complexities and interdependencies of the many different standards and conformity assessment systems: including those in the domestic, regional and international markets, as well as in the government and private sector.
Since joining ANSI in early 2006 my frame of reference has expanded. Now I’m working with a broader range of constituents. ANSI’s mission touches on every industry and every aspect of society from those that are focused on enhancing the global competitiveness of our businesses to those that concentrate on improving quality of life.
The lessons learned over the years and personal contacts I have established here and abroad will serve me well as we seek to advance our goals for ANSI and its members. My experience has shown me that the engagement of all affected parties industry, government, consumers and others is critical in the process of creating standards-based solutions to global priorities.
What are the most significant regulatory issues that ANSI must address, both in the United States and abroad?
ANSI typically focuses on issues that span multiple industries or that have an impact on both the public and private sectors. The common thread is our responsiveness to national and global priorities, many of which are driven by government initiatives and requests. We have helped to facilitate standards and conformity assessment-related solutions in areas ranging from consumer protection to homeland security to new and emerging technologies. Recently we have begun to explore how the standardization community can provide assistance in areas such as alternative fuels and identity protection and management.
One of our top objectives right now is to help strengthen the U.S. competitive position in the global marketplace. Other developed nations are leveraging their resources to provide technical assistance to developing economies. Brazil, India, China, Korea, Taiwan and several Eastern European countries are all going to become major trading partners. If the U.S. doesn’t step forward with a more organized approach, then we’re going to face a significant trade disadvantage. We need to level the global playing field and advance American interests by providing information and access to our standards, innovations and technology. ASTM recognizes the importance of outreach to other nations; your memorandums of understanding with 47 countries have set a benchmark for bilateral cooperation.
Across the board, we also need to encourage greater government reliance on standards that have been developed by the private sector. Legislation such as the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act compels federal agencies to turn to consensus-based, voluntary standards as alternatives to government-developed regulations. The NTTAA must be better understood and implemented across departments and agencies and also by the states and the local jurisdictions.
How do you plan to work with the U.S. government to advance the goals of your constituent members domestically and internationally?
On a broad scale, education and outreach is the critical first step. ANSI is calling upon our industry, trade association and professional society members, as well as standards developers and conformity assessment bodies of all types, to assist in building awareness. With current estimates placing the impact of standards on trade at nearly the $10 trillion mark, we should be able to capture the attention of federal agencies as well as members of Congress and their staffs. Our next step is to explain the strategic and tactical influence of standardization and demonstrate how our activities can be leveraged to open new markets for U.S. commodity and service exports.
Internally, ANSI’s Government Member Forum frequently meets with the Interagency Committee on Standards Policy, which reports to the Department of Commerce through the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The ICSP comprises standards executives from the various federal agencies, so there is a great alignment of interests. We also pursue one-on-one relationships with specific agencies to advance work in more narrowly defined areas: our interaction with the Department of Homeland Security is largely carried out through the ANSI Homeland Security Standards Panel, while many of our current efforts with the Department of Health and Human Services are centralized in the Healthcare Information Technology Standards Panel.
As always, the greatest volume of government participation continues to be at the tables where standards are being developed both in the U.S. and in regional and international forums. ASTM is a perfect example you have 1,700 units of participation in your technical committees from federal government employees. The biggest strides toward achieving our mutual goals are taken when industry, consumers and government representatives sit side-by-side at the same table.
What does it mean when ANSI speaks of the “multiple path” approach to the development and use of international standards? How does ANSI promote this approach in the United States and globally?
The “multiple path” approach means that the source of a standard and the method used to develop it is generally less important than the standard’s functionality and level of acceptance.
In the U.S., each market sector decides for itself which standards best support its needs. Usually the guiding principle is that the standard must be technically suitable and able to be used throughout a given market sector worldwide. In contrast, policy makers in some nations have dictated that only specific standards bodies often the International Organization for Standardization and the International Electrotechnical Commission are the preferred path to achieve a global standard.
The multiple path approach is a key element of the United States Standards Strategy that was published in late 2005. As a leading advocate of the USSS, ANSI carries the multiple-path message forward to our counterparts around the world and to the regional and international standards bodies where we represent the United States.
The U.S. Standards Strategy is a revision of the first National Standards Strategy. What were some of the challenges of bringing together the many interests represented in the U.S. standards community, and how were they addressed?
This was a monumental project. The global standards landscape had changed a great deal since the NSS had been published in 2000 and there were many new aspects of standardization and many new players in the standardization arena that needed to be included in the update. In particular, it was going to be important to engage consumer groups and consortia in the review and revision process.
ANSI served as facilitator of the project and I chaired the committee charged with leading the update. We agreed early on that the Strategy was to be developed through the coordinated efforts of a large and diverse group of stakeholders. Representatives of government, industry, standards developing organizations, consortia, consumer groups, and academia were asked to sit on the committee and to assist in our outreach. We were committed to developing the Strategy in a way that was open and balanced and so that every draft would be available for review and comment through a transparent and participatory process.
We made special efforts to solicit input and engage groups that may have been underrepresented during the development of the first NSS. This was a challenge because often there was no established relationship with our target audience. We needed to introduce ourselves, explain who we were and what we were doing before we could even start explaining why it was important for the organization to engage with us in the Strategy’s development. I believe we were successful. In fact, the caucus we organized in early 2005 turned out to be the largest known gathering of representatives of the consortia community.
We tried to ensure that all affected interests were being represented and that they were able to have their voices heard. The result is a document that represents the vision of a broad cross-section of standards stakeholders and that reflects the diversity of the U.S. standards system.
I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to once again extend thanks to everyone who worked on the USSS project. I’d especially like to acknowledge my good friend, ASTM President Jim Thomas, who stepped in to chair the subgroup responsible for developing the introductory text that laid the groundwork for the actual strategies.
ANSI has committed to following up on the national implementation of the USSS. To put it simply, how are we doing so far?
In terms of implementation, great progress is being made. We have laid a solid foundation upon which we continue to build. Many specific actions have been taken that directly support a particular strategy or tactic. But more important, we have also found that a great many actions called for by the USSS are already in line with the daily activities of many organizations. In essence, the Strategy simply documented the normal course of business of the U.S. standardization community.
ASTM is one of many standards developing organizations, trade associations, and government agencies that have formally endorsed the Strategy. This became even more compelling when we learned that your board’s action to endorse the USSS was taken during its meeting in the People’s Republic of China.
Tracking the progress of implementation and endorsement will be an ongoing project. I encourage everyone reading this article to go to the Web site, read the Strategy, view the endorsement and implementation reports, and record what your organization is doing to support and assist in implementation.
In a global trade environment, conformity assessment is becoming a more important issue. What are some opportunities for ANSI in expanding into the realm of conformity assessment?
One of the top priorities for the Institute has to do with the expansion of ANSI’s conformity assessment portfolio. The Institute’s accreditation services business line is poised for growth. We are ready to explore new markets and build on what has proven to be a successful business model for us. There may be opportunities to grow through strategic partnerships with other organizations, or by building on the services that ANSI currently offers.
ANSI is recognized as a one-stop resource for standards information, and it is time to build on that reputation to better serve our conformity assessment customers. It’s an exciting area for us, and I think you can expect growth on the horizon.
What are some other growth opportunities for ANSI in the coming years?
The United States is facing a dramatic shift in our population. Today, about one in every eight Americans is over 65. By 2030, there will be about 71.5 million older persons in the U.S., most of us among them. I think that the standards community needs to look at how we can address the needs of aging individuals. This could mean the development of new accessibility standards, new technologies and other initiatives that are still to be defined.
Another opportunity resides in the services sector, which represents the largest and most dynamic segment of the world economy, accounting for a significant portion of gross domestic product in many countries, and an even larger share of employment. We need to make sure that standards and conformity assessment programs are being linked to the services sector; this is a key component of ensuring U.S. competitiveness abroad.
In July, ANSI cosponsored the Options for Action Summit with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which brought together U.S. industry, government and standards leaders to discuss ways to provide meaningful technical assistance to developing nations. What were some issues raised and goals put forth at the summit and how has it affected your thinking for ANSI’s direction with regard to developing nations?
At the summit, we agreed that effective partnerships between government and industry are necessary if we are to build capacity in developing nations. We agreed to help transform developing economies into new markets for U.S. exporters. And we agreed that members of the standards community must become more actively engaged in trade policy activities.
As an outcome of this meeting, ANSI is collaborating with NIST to develop high-level policy statements that tie national economic growth and competitiveness directly to standards and conformity assessment programs. We also plan to establish a public- and private-sector partnership forum of key players to guide policy implementation for standards-related U.S. technical assistance and capacity building. The forum would identify priority activities and objectives, explore ways to leverage existing resources and new funding sources and coordinate the implementation of technical assistance and capacity-building activities within public-private partnerships.
From ANSI’s perspective, we will continue to dedicate resources to information sharing and outreach. During 2006 we partnered with the Standardization Administration of China and NIST to develop the U.S.-China Standards Portal. This resource makes information about key standards and technical regulations available in both English and Mandarin for the benefit of exporters and policymakers in the U.S. and China.
I will be traveling to India in early 2007 to assist in building stronger relationships with the Bureau of Indian Standards and the Confederation of Indian Industries. Our goal is to foster the alignment of positions on global standards and compliance programs that will enhance our trade relationship with India. We’ve seen U.S.-Indian trade jump from 20 percent to 22 percent between 2005 and 2006, so there is tremendous potential.
I cite these two projects only as examples of the work that is being done with developing economies. They are a drop in the bucket compared to the financial energy that other nations are funneling into their technical assistance programs. The U.S. can’t afford to be outpaced by the trade advantages they are gaining.
ANSI has Regional Standing Committees in the Americas, Asia-Pacific, and Europe, the Middle East and Africa. What activities do these committees engage in and how do they serve ANSI’s goals for monitoring and participating in global standardization activities?
The Regional Standing Committees broaden the participation of the Institute in the development of regional policy positions and keep our constituents involved and informed on a wide variety of global standards and conformity assessment issues. They provide advice and guidance related to our outreach efforts in specific regions and the establishment of bilateral agreements with particular countries. The alliances we build help to bolster ANSI’s influence in IEC and ISO and help to provide an effective counterbalance to other foreign pressures.
The RSCs also recommend U.S. positions to be carried forward in regional standards bodies such as the Pacific Area Standards Congress, the Pan American Standards Commission and to the European standards organizations. Strong representation and leadership in regional standards activities have a significant effect on the successful incorporation of North American codes and standards into these regions. They also help to emphasize our multiple approach policy regarding standards development activities globally by networking with many of our peer national standards bodies.
Within its structure, ANSI has forums composed of company, consumer interest, government and organizational representatives. How does ANSI serve these constituent groups through the forum system and how do the members of these groups in turn help promote standardization within their sectors?
The ANSI member forums provide an opportunity for networking and collaboration between the individuals and organizations that comprise our diverse body of members. They also provide a mechanism for the “early warning” of relevant trends, address issues of interest unique to their membership and galvanize implementation at their constituent level. In addition, the ANSI Company Member Forum has developed several “Emerging Issues” ad hoc teams that are identifying the most crucial areas of interest affecting ANSI company members and exploring ways they can work together for their mutual benefit. It was one of these groups that suggested ANSI partner with NIST to organize the July 2006 event on chemical-related regulations. This exploration of potential early-warning systems and processes that will facilitate effective dialogue about health, safety and the environment was determined to be so important that ANSI has offered to host another Chemicals Summit during the summer of 2007.
Based on feedback from our members, we are now in the process of organizing and introducing an additional forum for organizations that are involved in conformity assessment activities. We are also considering the establishment of several new special interest groups that will allow for cross-forum participation on topics of mutual interest.
We look forward to working with our friends at ASTM and with ASTM’s members to advance our mutual objectives and goals. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to share these thoughts with your readers. //