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Standards and Strategy
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 January 2006 Feature
S. Joe Bhatia takes the reins as ANSI’s president and CEO as of Jan. 1. During his 35-year tenure with Underwriters Laboratories, Bhatia assumed positions of progressive leadership in global business operations. His areas of responsibility have included engineering, governmental and external affairs, follow-up (certification) services and, most recently, direction of UL's $300+ million international operations. Bhatia is a member of the Standards Engineering Society and a frequent lecturer in the U.S. and around the world on topics such as international trade, technical developments, commercial market access, and health, safety and environmental concerns.

Standards and Strategy

Essential Underpinnings of the U.S. Economy

The standardization system in the United States reflects our nation’s market-driven and highly diversified society. It promotes the public good, enhances the competitiveness of our industries, and contributes to a liberalized and fair trading system. In order to maximize our country’s leadership role in the global society and our prosperity in a worldwide economy, U.S. stakeholders have developed a strategic approach to standardization that is intended to keep us on a unified path today and for years to come.

ASTM International joined with a wide range of members of the standardization community to contribute input and expertise to the development and implementation of the first National Standards Strategy for the United States, which was published in 2000. The NSS reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to a sector-based approach to voluntary standardization activities and described a framework that supported the traditional strengths of the U.S. system — such as consensus, openness and transparency — while giving additional emphasis to speed, relevance and meeting the needs of public interest constituencies.

The NSS was built with its own mandate for tracking implementation efforts. The American National Standards Institute provided a mechanism for coordinating, integrating, and reporting progress. In early 2004, the ANSI board of directors convened the National Standards Strategy Committee to determine whether the NSS required revision to reflect current issues and anticipated trends. The Institute’s chairman, George Arnold, asked me to lead this committee as chair, and a challenging yet ultimately very satisfying 20-month process of review, revision and cooperation was launched.

The Revision Process
From the outset, the committee agreed that its efforts would be open, balanced and transparent. Because the strength of the U.S. system resides in its diversity, it was critical that any consideration and revision of the NSS be developed through the coordinated efforts of a large and diverse collection of stakeholders. The review process emphasized inclusiveness and every stakeholder group — government, industry, standards developing organizations, consortia, consumers and academia — brought to the table their own unique requirements and needs.

ANSI’s volunteer leadership also suggested topics that served as a starting point for the deliberations. These included consideration of intellectual property rights, funding models for the standards system, national priorities, and global trade issues. Alignment issues for enhanced U.S. participation in regional and international organizations, national adoption of international standards, and education programs such as university outreach were also suggested.

Initially, four committee subgroups were created for the purpose of advancing these particular aspects of the project. Participation on the subgroups was open to all interested parties from the United States to provide the opportunity for the broad input that was sought from all stakeholders on the content of the document. The areas of focus for the subgroups were:

• National Priorities, chaired by Stephen Lowell of the Department of Defense;
• International, chaired by William Primosch of the National Association of Manufacturers;
• Education and Training, chaired by Donald Purcell of Catholic University; and
• Funding, Patents, and Intellectual Property Rights, chaired by James Shannon of the National Fire Protection Agency.

Subsequently, a fifth subgroup was formed to consider revisions to the introductory text of the strategy; this group was chaired by James Thomas of ASTM International. The entire document was edited by Stephen Oksala of the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers.

During the initial stages, the name of the document was changed to the United States Standards Strategy to reflect a document that is developed as a tool for the U.S., built on the requirements and input of a diversity of U.S. stakeholders. The name change recognizes globalization and the need for standards designed to meet stakeholder requirements irrespective of national borders. The new name also reflects a standardization environment that incorporates new types of standards development activities, more flexible approaches, and new structures.

Key Points of the USSS
From late April through early October 2005 the USSS Committee considered comments gathered during the public review period through a variety of venues. Sector caucuses engaged the U.S. Department of Defense, representatives of consortia, and the constituents of the National Association of Manufacturers. A public forum was held in Washington, D.C. All comments on the draft were reviewed and discussed during meetings of the full USSS Committee and received full, fair and deliberate consideration.

The effort to achieve far-reaching support for, and implementation of, the strategy will be bolstered by this open and transparent revision process, and by continued outreach to solicit a wide range of input from all segments of the U.S. standardization community. Working together for the advancement of global standardization will further ensure a document that will reflect the various interests of this broad community and will be more likely to be embraced by all.

The new U.S. Standards Strategy highlights flexibility, gives attention to the diversity of standards developers, and more clearly articulates the role of groups such as consortia and fora. It also recognizes certain key differences between the U.S. and some of its global trading partners.

Not all nations fully embrace the globally accepted principles of standardization endorsed by the World Trade Organization. Some nations do not respect intellectual property rights and may try to impose the use of a national standard as a barrier to trade or as a mechanism for sheltering one of their own industry sectors. And some nations do not invite open and inclusive participation in standardization activities or balance the interests of all stakeholder groups so that the outcomes are representative and broadly supported.

This edition of the strategy carries forward the important principle that standards should meet societal and market needs and should not be developed to act as technical barriers to trade. The U.S. Standards Strategy promotes any global standard that is technically suitable, is used throughout a given market sector worldwide, and was developed in accordance with the principles for standards development expressed during the Second Triennial Review of the World Trade Organization’s Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement.

As coordinator of the U.S. standardization system, ANSI played a lead role in managing the preparation and publication of the USSS.  It is appropriate that, in December 2005, the Institute’s Board of Directors was the first entity to approve the strategy. It is equally important to clarify that this is not a strategy for ANSI, but a strategy for all stakeholders in the United States. 

There must be an awareness of the USSS for it to be successful.  Education and communication are critical first steps for a successful roll-out and implementation. Among our top priorities will be an endorsement or recognition of the strategy by Congress, top-level government agency officials, and industry groups and leaders. This will serve as an additional catalyst to foster this system and promote U.S. competitiveness in the global marketplace. 

A strategy that encompasses standards-setting and implementation can only be effective if it is able to support the needs of diverse interests, from the long-standing and traditional industries to new and emerging technology and service areas. The USSS was shaped to meet a wide range of needs within such areas as aerospace, automotive, chemical, construction, electrical and related technologies, information technology, medical, and tourism.  Many of these industry sectors — and numerous others — are represented within ASTM International.  As such, your organization recognizes better than most the importance of sector-specific implementation plans.  Success is dependent upon facilitating the involvement of all affected parties and focusing attention on unique interests and needs within each industry. 

ANSI, in its role as the U.S. national member of many international and regional standards organizations, will work with its policy and program oversight committees to develop implementation plans for the appropriate constituencies, supporting the various approaches each sector will have in applying the strategy’s tactics to meet their respective needs. We encourage ASTM International to do the same.

In other areas, I expect to see industry focus on actions that add value to the standardization process and mitigate technical barriers to trade. Standards developers will investigate ways to increase efficiencies and broaden participation. And groups in the government, led by the Interagency Committee on Standards Policy and the Trade Policy Staff Committee, will pursue implementation within their respective areas of interest.  Everyone has a role to play.

A Clear and Consistent Message
Members of the international community have also expressed interest in the new U.S. Standards Strategy, but they should expect no surprises. The U.S. is always consistent and clear with its message: standardization must be sector-based, driven by the marketplace, and adhere to the set of globally accepted principles for standards development.

The new strategy encourages U.S. stakeholders to seize every opportunity to promote initiatives that keep markets open and transparent, protect the environment, and enhance consumer health and safety. We must forge new and solidify existing partnerships around the world, and work in active collaboration with our counterparts to carefully examine marketplace and societal issues and to develop standards-based solutions to address those needs.

The United States Standards Strategy focuses attention on the unique requirements of various markets — domestic, regional and worldwide — and the need for standards that are globally relevant.  To achieve this goal, it calls for better coordination between the private and public sector, stronger support from the federal government, and a higher level of awareness of the value of standards.

We would not be where we are today had it not been for the dedication of all the USSS Committee members and the hundreds of people that participated in every facet of the strategy’s creation.  We will continue to capitalize on the support of these individuals, and thousands more across the nation, as we embark upon a vigorous implementation plan. Our shared success will return many rewards. //

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