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Engaging the U.S. Government: Outreach to Federal Agencies

ASTM International engages with the U.S. federal government to help build consensus among the private and public sectors and increase awareness about the value of developing and using voluntary consensus standards. ASTM International’s office in Washington, D.C., helps drive such initiatives and serves as a resource for our technical committees.

Why Does ASTM International Engage with the U.S. Federal Government?

ASTM International’s Washington, D.C., office continually reaches out to Congress and federal government agencies to educate policymakers about ASTM International, the importance of public-private collaboration and the federal government’s participation in standards development, and the value of using consensus-based standards for legislative, regulatory and trade matters.

ASTM’s engagement with the federal government is valuable because of the various challenges posed to the standards community. First, standards initiatives are not always a top priority for the federal government, in part because of the government’s lack of resources and because of the lack of knowledge about standards development organizations and the value of standards. Second, federal agencies’ objectives and attitudes toward standards vary. Third, rule making involves a lengthy process, and as a result many federal agencies neglect to update or revise regulations to incorporate the most recent standard.

ASTM International addresses these challenges by communicating with the U.S. federal government. The best approach to increasing awareness about ASTM’s standards activities and enhancing private and public coordination is being flexible. ASTM works to understand Congress’ objectives and the various agencies’ needs and then helps them determine how consensus-based standards play a role. ASTM encourages federal agency representatives to participate on our technical committees so that they can contribute to standards development and understand the value of using a consensus-based standard. ASTM’s Washington, D.C., office often collaborates with the staff at ASTM headquarters and members on various technical committees to successfully engage with federal agencies.

ASTM International’s outreach has resulted in some agencies relying on ASTM to develop a standard under our open, balanced and consensus-driven process that meets the agencies’ regulatory needs. The federal government may base its regulations on the private sector standard developed with the consensus of the public and private sectors. When incorporating an ASTM standard into a proposed rule, the federal agency then allows for the public to comment on the use of the standard as part of its rule making process. All stakeholders benefit when the government takes this approach. For example, in 2005, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration adopted a new class of aircraft, light sport aircraft, made possible through collaboration with the aviation industry in the development of consensus standards under the auspices of ASTM International. FAA selected ASTM to develop these standards because the agency did not have the breadth of expertise, resources or the platform for reaching consensus on the high quality technical standards necessary to spur this burgeoning industry. With the development of a portfolio of ASTM standards and FAA’s acceptance of them, the LSA industry continues to innovate through increased safety, marketplace acceptance, technology development and lower costs for manufacturers and consumers.

Furthermore, ASTM often works with federal agencies to ensure that they reference the most updated version of a standard. We monitor the Code of Federal Regulations, which references consensus standards required in federal rules. Because the CFR contains 2,200 references to ASTM standards, it is important that ASTM coordinates with its technical committees to submit public comments in response to agencies’ proposed regulations that address outdated standards. ASTM standards are reviewed and revised at least once every five years to ensure that the standards continue to meet industry and consumer needs and reflect new information or technologies. The government’s reference to the most updated version of an ASTM standard increases public-private collaboration, clarifies legal uncertainty and reduces confusion in the marketplace.

How Do Current U.S. Policies Reinforce Federal Outreach by ASTM?

ASTM’s educational initiatives with the federal government are reinforced by two current federal policies: the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act of 1995 and the Office of Management and Budget Circular No. A-119, Federal Participation in the Development and Use of Voluntary Consensus Standards and in Conformity Assessment Activities. The NTTAA and the OMB A-119 circular recognize the value and benefits of using and participating in a transparent and open process to develop voluntary consensus-based standards. These policies require federal agencies to use standards developed by voluntary consensus standards organizations when possible to carry out their policy objectives and encourage federal government agencies to participate in SDOs.

It is important for ASTM and its members to continue to educate policymakers about NTTAA and OMB A-119. ASTM standards are referenced more than those from any other SDO (see Table 1), with the Code of Federal Regulations containing more than 2,200 references to ASTM standards. A list of all ASTM standards incorporated into regulation can be found when you search under “ASTM” in the Standards Incorporated by Reference Database.

Additionally, with more than 1,300 representatives from federal agencies participating on 93 percent of ASTM’s technical committees, the federal government is a partner and key stakeholder in ASTM’s standards activities. The federal government’s participation in standards development serves the public’s interests. Agency representation can provide technical expertise and support, shed light on the agency’s objectives and eliminate the need for the development of separate government-unique standards developed without stakeholder input.

Overall, ASTM’s staff in Washington, D.C., serves as a resource for our technical committees and members. ASTM initiatives to increase the U.S. federal government’s recognition of and participation in ASTM’s standards development activities help provide uniformity across the public-private sectors. Such consensus and uniformity contributes to achieving product quality, reliability and performance, consumer confidence and market access. We welcome an open dialogue with ASTM members so that we can better educate the federal government about the value of ASTM International and voluntary consensus standards to both the public and private sectors.

For more information about ASTM International’s engagement with the federal government, or how your committee can further its own engagement, please contact Sarah Petre in ASTM’s Washington, D.C., office.

Sarah Petre is manager of government and industry affairs at ASTM International.

Table 1 — Top 10: Standards Incorporated by Reference by Regulatory Agencies1

Standards Developing Organization No.

ASTM International 2245

American National Standards Institute 556

American Society of Mechanical Engineers 552

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 464

SAE International 438

National Fire Protection Association 375

American Petroleum Institute 281

International Maritime Organization 238

AOAC International 210

National Academy Press 198

1. These are the top ten regulatory SDOs in the Standards Incorporated by Reference Database and the number of times one of their standards is listed in the Code of Federal Regulations.

This article appears in the issue of Standardization News.