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ASTM International Opens Doors of “Standards House” to Regional Neighbors

Communication and relationship building took center stage during a recent Open House at ASTM International Headquarters in West Conshohocken, Pa. The event, held on Nov. 29 and 30, welcomed leaders of the National Standards Bodies of 22 Latin American and Caribbean countries, as well as Canada.

Over the course of the two-day program, attendees engaged in frank, interactive discussion about global standards and the needs of their particular countries, while also learning more about ASTM’s consensus standards development process from ASTM members representing both government and industry. According to Kathleen (Kitty) Kono, ASTM vice president, global cooperation, the goal of the Open House was to lay the foundation for greater dialogue and collaboration between ASTM and the standards developing organizations (SDOs) of countries across the Americas region.

“By hosting the standards leadership from nations throughout the Americas, we can better facilitate and open lines of communication between ASTM and the SDOs in the region,” notes Kono. “Listening to their issues and concerns creates greater awareness on how ASTM can support their needs and how they can increase their participation in our consensus process.”

Spirit of Cooperation and Participation

In their opening remarks, Kono and ASTM President James A. Thomas set the tone for the program, welcoming international guests to what Thomas’ predecessor William Cavanaugh referred to as a “standards house,” where all are welcome to participate.

“You have come here hoping to learn about the ways we can work together in a spirit of cooperation to improve the development and use of standards in each of your countries,” remarked Thomas. “ASTM shares the same goal. This Open House is an expression of our interest in improving relationships between our organizations.

“Your input and ongoing participation in our consensus process is truly necessary if we are to continue to meet not only your nations’ needs, but the needs of the global marketplace for standards that are of strong technical quality and market relevancy,” he added.

Thomas was joined in the opening segment of the program by Dr. Mark Hurwitz, president and chief executive officer of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and Linda Lusby, president of COPANT, the Pan American Standards Commission, which represents the collective standards needs of nations throughout the Americas.

Hurwitz discussed the United States standardization system and the unique roles of and cooperation between ANSI and ASTM. Both he and Lusby echoed Thomas’ sentiments for the need to increase dialogue and to combine efforts to reach common goals.

“It is critically important for all of us to work closely together to pursue development and access to standards that will improve trade and help secure the future prosperity of the Americas region,” commented Hurwitz.

Unique Public-Private Partnership Model

Open House speakers emphasized to their international audience the unique relationship between the public and private sectors in the United States concerning standards development. To educate Open House guests on the growing partnership between ASTM and the U.S. government, speakers were featured from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Representatives from each of these organizations described their relationship with ASTM and emphasized the importance of the 1996 National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act (NTTAA). The NTTAA transferred the responsibility for the development of technical standards from the federal government to private sector consensus standards organizations when feasible and appropriate

The NTTAA struck a chord with the audience who were interested in how it has influenced standards development in the United States. Thomas noted, “The NTTAA is a powerful statement that has led to new levels of cooperation between the public and private sectors in the area of standards.” He said that more than 1,000 federal employees participate on ASTM technical committees and over 3,000 ASTM standards have been adopted or incorporated by reference.

In his presentation, the FDA’s Don Marlowe, who also served as 2001 chairman of the ASTM Board, discussed how the agency ensures that the quality and safety of products regulated by his agency is enhanced—not compromised—by the use of voluntary consensus standards. During the question and answer session that followed his presentation, Marlowe responded to attendees' concerns about how government agencies could justify participation in private sector SDOs and not be obligated to regulate using the resulting voluntary consensus standard. Marlowe emphasized that "although the government's participation in private-sector standards development can create a situation in which the government agency strongly favors a standard, the nature of the consensus process makes it impossible for the government to impose its will on the marketplace.”

Meeting the Global Market Needs of Industry

To help educate attendees on how standards developed out of the ASTM consensus process play an integral role in global business strategies, the Open House program featured presentations from several industry representatives.

Providing an industry view of the ASTM standards process, ASTM board member Luis Ordónez, president, EfiTerm, S.A. de C.V., a Mexico-based consulting firm, emphasized how “focused enterprises move in a market direction and relevant voluntary standards are market driven.” Ordonez also noted how ASTM favors and promotes “balanced participation from members representing various levels of the producer-consumer chain.”

Also participating in this portion of the Open House program were ASTM Board members who spoke about ASTM committees representing the steel, petroleum, and construction industries. Vice Chairman of the ASTM Board Wayne Holliday, of LTV Copperweld, provided an overview and history of ASTM’s oldest committee A01, on Steel, Stainless Steel, and Related Alloys, discussed recent standards development, and outlined the committee’s global participation. Next up was David Smith, assistant commissioner of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, who offered perspective on the global makeup and reach of Committee D02 on Petroleum Products and Lubricants, ASTM’s largest committee with representatives from 43 countries. Rounding out the industry segment was Dr. Anthony E. Fiorato, president and CEO, Construction Technology Laboratories, Inc., who discussed the work of several of ASTM’s committees developing standards that impact the construction industry.

MOU Approach Praised

An overriding theme of the two-day event, which was simultaneously translated in both English and Spanish, was the need to establish more formal lines of communication that will enhance ASTM’s ability to support the needs of its neighbors throughout the Americas. Both Thomas and Robert Meltzer, ASTM vice president of Publications and Marketing, discussed ASTM’s initiative to create memoranda of understanding (MOUs) with developing nations. The MOU approach serves to promote communications between ASTM and each nation’s standards developing organization, and promote knowledge of the standards development activities of each organization. ASTM had recently signed MOUs with the National Standards Bodies of Colombia and Uruguay; representatives of both organizations were in attendance at the Open House.

The MOU approach drew praise from attendees and Kono assured that ASTM would remain vigilant in pursuing formalized agreements with more nations.

“By setting up a process for increased dialogue and cooperation with our international neighbors, we can more effectively involve them in helping to shape the future of ASTM standards so they meet the needs of their own countries,” comments Kono.

Setting the Stage for Future Success

As the Open House wound down and attendees prepared to embark on a closing bus tour of historic Philadelphia, many felt that the event had achieved its goal of creating a foundation for enhanced dialogue and future cooperation. In his closing remarks, Thomas summed up the value of the program.

“Our candid and engaging discussion over the past two days helped both ASTM and our guests from the Americas to better understand each other and how we can work together in the future,” noted Thomas. “This event is just the beginning of what we hope will be increased collaboration and openness, which has been the hallmark of ASTM and our consensus process. We look forward to working with our neighbors to increase our mutual success in the months and years ahead.” //

Copyright 2002, ASTM