Interview with Joan Walsh Cassedy
American Council of Independent Laboratories
The independent laboratories that ensure compliance with standards
are as caught up as any sector in the tides of global trade. Joan
Walsh Cassedy, who accepted the position of executive director
of the American Council of Independent Laboratories in the fall of 1999, talks with SN about the Council and the
issues her constituents face.
Please describe how the American Council of Independent Laboratories
serves the international community of independent laboratories.
We do that on many levels. First, we lead by example. Our members
ascribe to our mission and values and in that sense we are worldwide
leaders advancing the interests of the testing laboratory. We
also actively participate in the international community through
our participation in government initiatives and related organizations.
ACIL is represented on the Department of Commerces Industry Functional
Advisory Committee on Standards and Trade and participates in
the mutual recognition agreement [MRA] development process, by
working with the trade representatives office in establishing
these MRAs. We are also very active with the International Laboratory
Accreditation Conference [ILAC], the Union Internationale de Laboratoires
Independents [UILI], and sister organizations such as the Canadian
Council of Independent Laboratories, as well.
Like most trade associations, we have a host of tangible, bottom-line
benefits. But there are many intangible aspects of ACIL Ive come
to appreciate since Ive come on board. One of the things I first
learned when I arrived last fall is that ACIL has this wonderful
tradition, going back 63 years, of sharing among its members.
Thats something you cant quantify. But the anecdotal stories
I hear from members when I ask them, What has ACIL meant to you?
are about the opportunities of learning from other people who
are in the industry. Perhaps these other members are in completely
different lines of testingbut the fundamentals of laboratory
quality and data quality and growing a business are the same,
and members have been able to share among each other in ways that
are really extraordinary.
In one case a member had a seasonal downturn and another member
in a different region of the country had an unexpected increase
in business at the same time, so the two member labs actually
shared staff. It helped the one company when they needed staff,
and helped the other not lose a valuable member of its staff because
of this seasonal downturn. In another case, a member learned through
the ACIL-member listserver that a major piece of equipment that
he had been considering purchasing was being sold by another member.
He visited that member, checked out the equipment, and purchased
it for 20 cents on the dollar. Theres a bottom-line benefit.
What role do standards play in the laboratory community?
The role of standards is major and fundamental because almost
all of the laboratories are testing to recognized consensus standards.
This is fundamental to the work that our laboratories do. These
standards are also fundamental to international trade in setting
the understanding and acceptance of the products and services
that are being traded internationally. Standards make that possible.
A study commissioned by Congress referred to the U.S. laboratory
accreditation system as an impediment to world trade. What are
your views on this statement? Are there ways the system discourages
freer trade between the United States and other nations?
Some people may say the U.S. accreditation system is an impediment
to world trade, but others would say its the building block of
world trade for the United States. There are many pluses to the
U.S. accreditation system. We are the world leaders in public
safety and health for good reason. So although some people are
very quick to be harsh on our system, perhaps we should look beyond
that at the bottom line, and the bottom line is public health
and safety. And there the United States is undoubtedly a leader.
What were concerned about is mutual recognitionhow can the accreditation
process be applied so that all parties are comfortable with the
products that are coming in? ACIL is a great supporter of the
accreditation process. We are also great supporters of the National
Cooperation for Laboratory Accreditation (NACLA) and its goal
of streamlining the process. I think that the role that U.S. accreditation
plays in world trade is by no means as simple as the statement
in that report.
We do recognize that some accreditors are quick to establish new
accreditation programs, while perhaps not properly evaluating
whether existing programs could be adapted or amended to apply.
One of the great problems is the proliferation of programs. And
that places a constraint on the laboratories in terms of, of course
cost, but also competitiveness. So the process needs to be simplified.
ACIL, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST),
and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) helped establish
NACLA, the National Cooperation for Laboratory Accreditation,
to enhance the U.S. accreditation system. How does ACIL anticipate
NACLA will make advances in the system?
There are some things NACLA can do to advance the sense of partnership
between the labs and the accreditation bodies. And that in itself
would be a major step forward. I dont get the sense that the
labs are seen as the customers of the accreditation bodies.
And we need to see a greater partnership among all the entities
involvedand thats what NACLA has been trying to achieve. I do
know that some people wish there would be greater progress with
NACLA in a short time. But there are so many entities to bring
together. I think theyve made some really good progress this
year. The signing of the MRA between NIST and NACLA in July was
a major achievement that will go a long way to strengthen the
Right now, Canada and Mexico have observer status within NACLA,
but the goal is to bring some cohesion to the North American system,
and that would be a wonderful accomplishment.
There has been a major buy-up of smaller labs by larger ones such
as Intertek Testing, Cooperweld, and SGS, that have many branches
worldwide. What is the reason for this? Will smaller labs be able
to survive the competition from these large lab conglomerates?
The reason for the buy-up of the labs is that people are perceiving
a growing market for independent testing. And that of course places
a value on those who can provide the testing. But there is a place
for both the smaller labs and the larger laboratory companies
that have many branches. The smaller labs can provide niche services.
Frequently our smaller members are contracting services to the
larger ones because the former provide a specialized area of testing,
and it is more efficient for the larger lab to contract out than
to maintain the specialized service on their own.
Theres a natural niche for the smaller labs. There always will
be; theyre customer-driven, theyre relationship-driven. There
are many intangible values that are part of the testing processturnaround
time, meeting deadlines, reliabilityand people place a value
on those attributes. Although larger labs can provide them, this
is also where the smaller labs can compete. So there is a role
for both the large companies and the smaller independent labs.
ACIL is involved in designating conformity assessment bodies in
the U.S. to support Mutual Recognition Agreements in place with
the European Union, the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference (APEC),
and the Conference on Inter-American Telecommunications (CITEL).
How does this work affect the use of standards in regard to exporting
goods to these regions?
That really speaks to the need for harmonization of national and
regional standards, or at least mutual recognition of the technical
equivalence of these standards. Manufacturers worldwide continue
to look for one-test/one-standard/accepted worldwide, and that
is what is driving harmonization. These are all components of
this movement toward harmonization.
Does ACIL, based in Washington, D.C., advocate for American independent
labs in the nations capital? If so, what are the concerns you
take to Capitol Hill?
We have a wide array of activities. I should also back up and
say its not just Capitol Hill where we work. In many cases, we
are much more involved on the regulatory side of government than
we are on Capitol Hill. Regulatory issues affect our members every
day. There are some very clear-cut examples on the legislative
side, for example, the FAIR Act, which seeks to ensure that the
services that should be contracted out by government are. And
ACIL was without doubt a leader in having the FAIR Act implemented.
But we are involved in almost every regulatory agency in Washington.
When you think of the array of activities we have among the Department
of Energy, Department of Defense, the Army Corps of Engineers,
the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Environmental
Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, and so onits
Issues we face on the Capitol Hill side are frequently generic
to small business in general. And there we serve on coalitions
with other organizations to reinforce the small business issues,
the unfair competition issues, the privatization and outsourcing
issues, and we operate through groups like the Small Business
Legislative Council, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and other organizations
to get our point across there.
In a related matter, do you find the concerns of your American
member labs to be different from those of multinational or strictly overseas labs?
If so, how do you deal with that difference?
We do have international members, and its an interesting subject.
We have a member in Russia, for example, that is seeking our assistance
in fostering the system of independent laboratories and adherence
to standards in Russia. Many of our members from outside the United
States look at the U.S. system; theyre interested in learning
from the U.S. membersfrom our business practices in terms of
the fundamentals of growing a business. They may have different
perspectives in terms of their host-country standards, but the
fundamentals of testing, data quality, and the requirements for
growing a business are common around the world. So those are part
of what ACIL incorporates in everything we do. Our mission is
to enhance our members success by providing education, advocacy,
service, and mutual support. That cuts across all borders. And
we promote quality, ethics, and objectivity and free enterpriseand
again, they transcend all borders.
What are ACILs plans for serving its constituency in the 21st
One of our main short-term goals is improving the technology of
sharing ACIL among the members and then to the greater community.
And within the next year, well be seeing some major new programs
for ACIL that will really leap-frog us in that area. That also
goes to the point of serving our international members who can
then benefit more directly and more quickly from what ACIL has
Were also reinvigorating the ACIL Institute, now called the Independent
Laboratories Institute, which is a training vehicle for our members
and the broader laboratory community. The various sections of
ACIL (Civil Engineering, Conformity Assessment, Environmental
Sciences, Microbiology and Analytical Chemistry, and Life Sciences/Site
Management Organizations) are going to determine the areas of
training that are necessary, then drive those areas. We started
out with one project in the telecommunication certification bodies
area. Weve produced a series of video training courses, and were
also offering a computer-based training module on Federal Communications
Commission rules. This is just the start, and well be offering
other products in other areas as those segments of industry identify
training needs for the laboratory community.
My personal goal is to communicate the value of ACILs mission
and core values to encourage the greater laboratory community
to understand the commonality of issues among all disciplines
of testing. By addressing these issues together, the industry
can advance and grow in the 21st century. //
Copyright 2000, ASTM
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