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January 2005 Interview

In his position as chief deputy commissioner of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in Raleigh, N.C., N. David Smith wears many hats. The department’s scope of activity is so broad that in the course of a typical week, Smith will find himself dealing with homeland security issues, natural disasters such as the flooding the state experienced after the hurricanes of 2004, ticket sales and other concerns for the annual State Fair, the management of North Carolina’s research stations, animal welfare, the North Carolina honeybee industry, agricultural pest infestation, and foreign animal disease threats.

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is responsible for a broad range of issues involving the environment, consumer protection, health issues, marketing of agricultural commodities and finished products, surveillance and prevention of animal and plant diseases, recommending soil and plant modification strategies, two large agricultural fairs and five farmers’ markets, and providing the agricultural research platforms for North Carolina State University and the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.

Smith received his B.S. degree in biological and agricultural engineering from N.C. State University in 1972, the year he began his career with the N.C. Department of Agriculture as a staff engineer. In 1976, he was selected to direct the liquefied petroleum gas inspection program in the Standards Division, and in 1979 he was named director of the Standards Division, serving in that capacity until January 2001. Smith has completed the Government Executives Institute Program at the University of North Carolina and the Top State Managers Executive Education Program at Duke University.

An active member of ASTM Committee D02 on Petroleum Products and Lubricants since 1987, Smith served as chairman of the committee from 1994 until 1999. He has held many other roles within D02. Smith was secretary of the Volatility Section in Subcommittee D02.A0 on Gasoline and Oxygenated Fuels and chairman of its Antiknock Section; he served on the Executive Subcommittee; he is a member of the Task Group on Reformulated Gasoline; and he chaired the D02 Balanced Voting Task Force. Smith chaired the D02 Centennial Committee in preparation for the Committee’s 100th anniversary in 2004. For his many contributions, D02 has honored Smith with the Award of Appreciation (1995), the Sydney D. Andrews Scroll of Achievement (1998), the Award of Excellence (1999), and the Lowrie B. Sargent, Jr., Award (2001). Smith served as vice chairman of the ASTM board in 2003 and 2004.

Also involved in professional groups in addition to ASTM International, Smith is a past chairman of the National Conference on Weights and Measures and serves on numerous NCWM standing committees and task forces. He is actively involved in the Southern Weights and Measures Associations, one of four regional weights and measures groups in the United States. Smith is an SWMA past chairman and currently serves as secretary-treasurer.

Interview with the 2005 Chairman of the ASTM Board of Directors, N. David Smith

How did your work in the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services result in your joining ASTM Committee D02 on Petroleum Products and Lubricants?

In 1979 I became director of the Department’s Standards Division. That division is responsible for inspection programs involving gasoline and oil, weights and measures, and liquefied petroleum gas. The basis for the gasoline and oil inspection program is the adoption by reference of a series of ASTM International standards. In the early 1980s, there was considerable turmoil in the petroleum industry as alternative fuels entered the market. We were receiving complaints from motorists and distributors as to what was an approved fuel that could be used by the motoring public. I felt I needed to be more involved in the development of fuel standards if I was expected to carry out the requirements of the gasoline and oil inspection law. In other words, I wanted to be a player and fortunately, management agreed to support my involvement.

The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Standards Laboratory in Raleigh houses a collection of antique measurement standards that were used by the department to officially establish accurate calibrations of commercial weighing and measuring devices. Smith is pictured in front of the display. Some pieces date from the early 1900s.

Since you joined ASTM International, you have been an active participant in the basics of standards development within D02, especially in your six years as chairman of the main committee. How has your involvement on this level informed your perspective on the policy decisions made by the ASTM board of directors?

That is an interesting question as it relates to Committee D02. D02 is a very large organization; in fact, some people have said that it is like a standards development organization within a standards development organization. We meet independently of Committee Weeks and so we’ve not always had the intimate involvement of ASTM’s president or chairman. As a result, we often don’t hear of important policy changes straight from ASTM’s leadership. D02 has been fortunate to have representation on the board for a number of years, but it’s not quite the same as hearing directly from the president and chairman.

In recent years, the board of directors has been on the cutting edge with the policy direction and actions it has taken that impact the harmonization of ASTM standards with those of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and other standards developing organizations. As a technical committee member, it’s clear to me that the actions taken by the board have been direct reactions to decisions made by D02 and other technical committees as they work to cooperate within the global standards development community. I have seen that the needs of the technical committees become the basis for many of the board’s actions and policy decisions; there really is an interchange there.

ASTM International benefits greatly from the participation of state agencies in its standards development process, and could benefit from even more. Can you describe the mutual advantages derived by both ASTM and state governments when agencies become actively involved in standards development?

State regulatory agencies can either develop their own standards or they can adopt standards developed by recognized standards development organizations. With shrinking budgets and staffs, it is very difficult to find the resources to develop standards in-house. Plus, the regulated community wants to comply with more uniform standards as opposed to 50 different state standards addressing the same issue.

Perhaps the latter issue is an offshoot of so many business mergers. Companies that once operated strictly within one state now operate in many states, and state-unique standards are a drag on their bottom lines. ASTM is the perfect forum for participating in the standards development process. A state representative has the opportunity to put forth his or her ideas plus the opportunity to participate in discussions with the stakeholders. Frankly, I have found the latter to be of great benefit because I could identify the major players and engage them in one-on-one discussions.

The standards developed by D02 are perfect for state involvement because petroleum products and the accompanying test methods are so universal. While my involvement has been on the performance side of the standards, there are other state agencies that are concerned about air quality and contamination from petroleum spills. Those agencies benefit from adopting ASTM test methods in their rules because petroleum products are not unique to a particular state. Granted, there are requirements unique to some states like California and there are some regional differences, but the test methods are the same.

From a policy perspective it makes no sense to waste time and resources to develop unique standards when the world’s experts are actively engaged in working on the issue. You need to be a player and the only way to get in the game is to participate in ASTM International activities.

Last summer you presented the keynote address at the Committee D02 centennial celebration, which showed your intimate knowledge of and pride in both the members and the work of D02. You emphasized that D02 can be proud of its first 100 years, but it needs to prepare for the next 100 years. How is the committee positioned to fulfill its responsibility to the petroleum industry to create relevant and timely standards as products and regulations evolve?

In my presentation I stated that hydrocarbon fuels will remain a dominant energy source for the next 50 years, but higher prices will present new opportunities for alternative and synthetic products as well as sources of petroleum that are currently too expensive to bring to market. The industries that make up D02 — the petroleum, airtransports, automotive and allied companies — are concentrating on petroleum-based products right now. For their future existence, they realize that eventually alternative fuels such as biodiesel and ethanol will gain greater and greater shares of the market. Many of these companies are ready to transition into supplying alternative fuels, plus the new products will require the development of new test methods, practices and specifications.

Committee D02’s members are employees of these companies and they work very aggressively to be sure the standards they need are in place for the development and success of alternative fuels. Most of D02’s members know the standards they develop have a direct impact on their business. So the committee’s future is founded on its members, who have a direct financial stake in D02’s standards development.

Smith observes as Bob Albright, a metrologist with the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Standards Division, loads a customer’s weights that have been tested and certified for accuracy onto a truck. The Standards Laboratory checks commercial weights, thermometers, grain moisture meters and other measurement tools of commerce to ensure fairness in trade.

You have said that you’ve always perceived ASTM as an international standards developer because of your association with Committee D02, which has such a broad international membership. Can you discuss the ingredients that have mixed to make D02 such a successful developer of internationally recognized standards? How can this be a template for similar success in other committees?

Committee D02 is in a somewhat unique position since petroleum always has been an international product. And because of this natural international interest, one-fifth of our members come from 52 countries outside the United States. Half of the laboratories participating in D02’s Interlaboratory Crosscheck Program are located outside the United States. I commented in my keynote address at D02’s centennial celebration last year that 140 of our committee’s standards are translated into Russian, with more unofficially translated into languages like Spanish and Arabic. I understand that 340 of D02’s 650 standards are either used verbatim or form the basis for the national standards used by other countries. These are just examples of the breadth of international interest in D02’s activities.

Our internationalism is largely motivated by specific groups such as our aviation fuels subcommittee. Naturally, when a plane takes off from the U.S. west coast, refuels in Australia, and again in Japan, our work ensures that this happens with consistent quality and safety. D02’s standards are also used internationally on an even more basic level. Crude oil composition varies depending on its origin. To optimize the refining process, purchasers must know the composition in advance to take advantage of their refining technology and capacity. So international standardization begins early in the process and, of course, everyone must have confidence in the test methods.

That is D02’s situation. ASTM’s infrastructure improvements, in the form of its Internet-based capabilities that allow people around the world to comment on drafts and cast votes without having to depend on the mail system — these are things any ASTM committee can use to boost international participation. Technical committees also benefit from ASTM’s philosophy that it doesn’t matter where you come from — which country, which part of industry — you are welcome at the table. A member from Japan, the United States, or Europe is just that — an ASTM member.

What value, in terms of, for example, efficiency, relevance, and quality, do you think ASTM offers the global standards development community?

To begin, I think ASTM’s test methods are among the finest test methods you can work with, because of their precision and bias statements, and the fact that they’re well-organized, consistent, and revised or reapproved at least every five years. And ASTM’s Proficiency Testing Program, which I’m very familiar with because of D02’s own Interlaboratory Crosscheck Program, offer labs the opportunity to learn how their performance compares to their peers’ performance around the world. By the way, the board recognizes the importance of maintaining the technical integrity of ASTM test methods. The board has included funds in the 2005 budget to provide staff support and financial resources to the technical committees to assist with the generation and preparation of precision and bias statements and research reports. I am really excited about this initiative.

In addition to that, ASTM has made great progress in the transparency of its process, much faster progress than I could have imagined just a few years ago. With developments in the last two to three years like online work item registration, online ballot item submission, and so on, anyone can easily learn what standards are under development in ASTM and the ballot status by using our Web site. I believe we really are at the forefront of standards development in ensuring that our processes are as transparent and efficient as possible. It also follows that universal access to standards that are in development has and will continue to decrease redundancy among standards developers around the world.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that ASTM’s Web technology allows standards developers to propose a standard or revision and complete the balloting process within six months. I have seen that happen in D02. The tools are in place to make it happen if those interested in a standard are committed to the process.

Standards Division Director Stephen Benjamin shows Smith one of the four octane engines the Motor Fuels Laboratory uses to determine that the octane levels of gas samples being tested are the same as what is listed at the pump. This ensures that consumers who are pumping premium grade gas are actually getting a premium grade with a specific octane level.

ASTM International has, for several years now, been committed to providing standards development assistance to developing countries through our memorandum of understanding program. How do you assess the success of the ASTM MOU program and the Society’s overall effort both to enhance and promote the international relevance and usefulness of its standards?

The MOU program has been and continues to be successful in that we have signed memorandums of understanding with the national standards bodies of over 30 countries. The hard part is going to be getting over the initial euphoria of signing these MOUs, and translating that into action. The MOUs we have signed with other countries’ standards bodies do, of course, provide real benefits, such as current volumes of the Annual Book of ASTM Standards, and training and membership opportunities.

But, in the next couple of years, certain political obstacles in some nations will have to be overcome. Mexico, for one, dictates politically what standards will be used. It’s going to be hard for ASTM to overcome governmental decisions like that. But the fact is, many ASTM standards are used in regulation and industry as de facto standards. So somehow the Society has to work to achieve official recognition of ASTM standards within countries where there are political obstacles. One way to do that is by increasing the opportunities for ASTM membership in those countries. And we can do this sectorally and regionally. Asia, for instance, is the center of the textile industry, and Asia is using ASTM standards. So the Society would do well to encourage participation in ASTM in that specific sector and in that region.

While one may think a standard is a standard, there are of course nuances you have to recognize in terms of different countries’ needs. In order to be sure ASTM standards meet various region- or nation-specific needs, representatives of those regions and countries need to be able to participate in ASTM; we can encourage and facilitate that.

Then the benefits to countries signing these MOUs would be access to the real-time process of developing high-quality standards that are recognized around the world. And these standards can only be improved through the participation of international members, each of whom has equal representation at the table.

You are a past-chairman of the National Conference on Weights and Measures, which is responsible for applying uniform weights and measures standards to commercial transactions in the United States, and you are currently active in the Southern Weights and Measures Association. Can you talk about the critical role played in commerce by weights and measures standardization?

Weights and measures constitute basic standards. In our day-to-day activities, we buy gasoline, we buy groceries, and we sometimes buy odd products like concrete, bark mulch and fertilizers. We buy these products based on weight, volume, or count. Weights and measures standardization provides a uniform way to determine the accuracy of the indicated quantity. National and regional weights and measures programs ensure that the test methods and standards for determining measurement accuracy are the same across the states.

These days, weights and measures laboratories use high-tech processes to determine measurement accuracy. Our standards laboratory does a lot of work with pharmaceutical companies and enterprises that provide space shuttle components. These are quality control-driven industries, in which very precise measurements must be shown to be accurate, and our standards lab employs test methods and standards to validate, on an ongoing basis, the accuracy of standards that industries use in their measurement processes. We compare, under controlled conditions, the standards used by industry to the state standards, which are traceable to the national standards. In this activity, the National Institute of Standards and Technology has been a great partner.

Senior Chemist Tony Winborne shows Smith the automated Antek sulfur testing unit the Motor Fuels Laboratory uses to determine the sulfur content of diesel fuel and kerosene. As part of a measure to reduce air pollution from vehicle emissions, the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Standards Division tests sulfur levels for compliance with Environmental Protection Agency rules.

What challenges and opportunities do you see ahead for ASTM International in the next five years and how is ASTM positioned to meet these?

We are in an ever-changing environment. ASTM has to stay on that leading edge. We need to be positioned to respond when someone says, “We need a standard.” I think our ability to do that has been highlighted recently by the development of new ASTM technical committees on light-sport aircraft and unmanned air vehicles. When these industries said, “We need a standard,” ASTM was able to quickly pull together its resources to facilitate the development of standards in these areas. If a standards development organization can’t respond when a group of stakeholders says this, that group is going to go to another SDO.

Even with our mature committees, such as Committee D02, we have to be able to swiftly accommodate their changing needs. In some ways, I think ASTM’s older, established committees may be more of a challenge to serve than the newer committees. Newer committees are often more tightly focused, they’re certain of what they need to do in terms of harmonization with other international standards developers. Some of the larger, older committees, like D02 or A01 [on Steel, Stainless Steel, and Related Alloys], are not tightly focused. They’re big. They are dealing with both old and new technologies. Their commitment to or need for international harmonization may be harder to measure.

But ASTM is in a good position to service the needs of both new and established committees. As I’ve said before in our discussion, ASTM’s transparency, Web-based standards development technologies, and openness are strengths that will continue to ensure we can answer the call when someone says, “We need a standard.”

Another challenge we face, and that any organization that develops intellectual property is facing, is copyright protection. We are currently working on ways to protect our intellectual property while still serving the needs of our members and customers.

One other thing I am interested in seeing is the preservation and enhancement of the ASTM organizational membership category. I’ve heard people in D02 comment that they just need to get their upper management to understand the importance of participation in standards development. Well, making it of clear benefit to a company to support standardization by being an organizational member of ASTM will go a long way toward communicating the value of standards development to the executive level. We have begun to enhance organizational membership, and I think we can go further in attracting companies to organizational membership.

ASTM is in an excellent financial and leadership position to meet these challenges and I’m happy to be taking the chairmanship at such a promising time. I would like to say, on a personal level, that my work within the ASTM technical committee structure has made me a better person and administrator. I have learned so much in the give-and-take of committee work, and I know I will continue to grow in the next year through the feedback I will be receiving from ASTM’s members at Committee Week meetings and through my work on the board. I’m very much looking forward to my year as ASTM’s chairman. //

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