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A National Conformity Assessment Strategy

This article was adapted from two articles printed in the ANSI Reporter.

Now that a National Standards Strategy has been developed, the need for a National Conformity Assessment Strategy has been discussed among the various member councils of the American National Standards Institute. Some individuals have argued that a strategy is necessary immediately; others have questioned the need for one at all.

In 2000, U.S. interests were finalizing work on the text of a National Standards Strategy (NSS) for the United States. During this process, questions surfaced regarding plans to address “the other side of the coin”—a national strategy for conformity assessment (determining the fulfillment of specific standards requirements). It was evident that the topics discussed during the NSS meetings, such as national treatment, product approval processes, transparency, due process, fees, recognition, and duplicative requirements, are relevant to both standards and conformity assessment issues.

Those involved in development of the NSS observed that addressing both standardization and conformity assessment strategies at the same time might be too much to tackle if each issue were to be given appropriate consideration. Consequently, work on a National Conformity Assessment Strategy (NCAS) was tabled pending approval of the NSS—a milestone that was achieved in August 2000.

At this time, conformity assessment experts from the ANSI constituency who supported the development of such a strategy envisioned an end-of-2001 target date for a working draft. Some had presupposed everyone’s agreement on the benefits and advantages of developing a consensus “strategy” that might outline a national approach to conformity assessment. However, initial efforts to commence the project engendered considerable discussion and caveats.

Outreach to the various ANSI councils (company, consumer, government, and organization) on this initiative aroused passionate discussion. It was noted that considerable reference material already exists on conformity assessment topics in many different contexts. Various convocations of conformity assessment practitioners have taken place in recent years that generated summary records of common vernacular, the variety of approaches, and implementation particular to given sectors. Yet none seemed to fit the expectations for a companion reference for the National Standards Strategy that was relevant and compatible.

Lane Hallenbeck, ANSI vice-president for conformity assessment, noted, “Many stakeholders were concerned that the process of reaching consensus in defining sometimes complex conformity assessment concepts would result in a manuscript too generic to be meaningful. Some debated that controversial conformity assessment applications would be given undue emphasis. Others felt that the diversity of preferred approaches would make it too difficult to agree on common ground in such a document. But, the common and fundamental apprehension was that we had set off to create the NCAS before giving adequate consideration to if and why it might be needed.”

Accordingly, the ANSI Board of Directors charged an ad-hoc group from the Board Committee on Conformity Assessment to assess the desirability of a National Conformity Assessment Strategy, propose what the objective of such a strategy might be, and suggest what further steps are to be taken in this initiative.

This summer, building upon a resolution emanating from the Company Member Council Executive Committee (CMCEC), the ad hoc group outlined the principles that an NCAS should capture concerning conformity assessment in the United States with a view toward promoting and facilitating world trade to achieve the following objectives:

• Foster safety, health, and environmental protection to enhance the quality of life.
• Promote international understanding and recognition of U.S. systems.
• Promote U.S. product and service acceptance globally.
• Promote implementation of cost-effective conformity assessment systems.
• Support development of industry sectoral strategies.

Hallenbeck pointed out, “The support of ANSI-member councils for the creation of an NCAS as well as their guidance in defining the scope of this complex project was instrumental in the creation of the proposed development steps that we will follow with the Board of Directors approval.”

The kickoff for this NCAS effort commenced with a workshop on Sept. 24-25 at the Washington, D.C., headquarters of the American Petroleum Institute, an ANSI member and accredited standards developer. The proposed timeline calls for much of the development work to take place through June 2002. //

Additional Information
For additional information, contact Lane Hallenbeck, ANSI vice president of conformity assessment (phone: 202/331-3612).

Copyright 2001, ASTM