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Interview with the 2007 Chairman of the ASTM Board of Directors
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 January 2007
Gregory E. Saunders is the director of the Defense Standardization Program Office at the U.S. Department of Defense in Fort Belvoir, Va. Saunders is responsible for all facets of defense standardization policies and procedures including the development and use of military specifications and standards, qualified manufacturers Lists, and the use of private sector standards, and is also responsible for mitigating the impact of diminishing manufacturing resources on defense weapons systems. He is vice chair of the Defense Standardization Council.

With a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from the University of Evansville in Evansville, Ind., Saunders began his work with the DoD in 1976, where his career has advanced to his current post, which he assumed in 1998. Over the years, Saunders has testified before Congress, served on Defense Science Board Studies chaired by Secretary Perry, and has been responsible for the DoD’s program to adopt and use standards produced by voluntary standards organizations.

From 1988 to 1990, Saunders served on the ASTM Committee on Technical Committee Operations and as chairman of the former Committee F10 on Food. He is currently a member of ASTM Committee F07 on Aerospace and Aircraft, and he has also been active on Committees F15 on Consumer Products and F26 on Food Service Equipment. From 2001 to 2003, he was a director on the ASTM board; Saunders was chairman of the ASTM Finance and Audit Committee in 2004.

Saunders serves in the Aerospace Executive Committee, on the Technical Standards Board, and he chairs the Aerospace Council of SAE International. He is a director on the ANSI board, and currently chairs the ANSI appeals board.

Interview with the 2007 Chairman of the ASTM Board of Directors

In your position as director of the Defense Standardization Program Office, you are responsible for all facets of defense standardization policies and procedures. Can you describe what this entails on a day-to-day basis?

The Department of Defense uses about 26,000 specifications and standards. Twelve people work for me directly, but we have centralized management and decentralized execution. So while there are a small number of people with oversight at the DSPO, there are hundreds of people in the services and agencies who actually do the specification writing or participate in standards development and adoption.

One of the great things about my job is that there is no “normal” day; it is very varied. Hardly a week goes by that I don’t make some kind of decision about budgeting for my organization. Hardly a week goes by that I’m not involved in some kind of nongovernment standards activity — since I work with many of them, ASTM included — so I may be involved in a conference call with SAE International, or off at a meeting at the American National Standards Institute, for example.

At DSPO, my staff and I are always having policy discussions, such as our current implementation of a new qualification database. DoD is moving away from its old qualified products list philosophy, where we evaluated products and listed the acceptable ones in a hard copy list available to procurers. That was very hard to keep up to date, as things change very rapidly. So we’re moving from that paper-based system to an online system where updates are real-time. Procurement officers now have access to the latest information as soon as it’s available.

So there’s never a boring day. Tomorrow will not be like today, I can absolutely guarantee that.

The Department of Defense is one of the largest procuring entities in the world, if not the largest. In working with the various military branches and the corporations that supply them, how would you say standards improve the partnership between manufacturer and federal agency?

There are two facets to that. One is that making requirements clear to the contractor is an extremely important part of the contracting process. Specifications and standards are contract shorthand. If you call out a microcircuit according to a certain specification, the contractor knows exactly what you’re looking for. Without specifications, we are reinventing the description of what we are trying to buy each time.

The other aspect to the agency-manufacturer partnership is that, as we have grown to partner more with industry — both in developing voluntary standards and asking industry to comment on our mil-specs as we adopt them — the DoD keeps up with current technology. This helps ensure that we’re getting recent state-of-the-art, not asking for things that are impossible to build or manufacture. So working together in the standards development process cements the relationship between DoD as the buying agency and the vast contracting world that supplies all the materials we require.

Despite the fact that you work for a U.S. government agency, you are no stranger to working with nations around the world in regard to military standardization. What organizations are you involved with that have international scopes and how does DSPO contribute to their work?

NATO [the North Atlantic Treaty Organization] constitutes the single largest international involvement that DoD has. I chair a NATO working group that is charged with developing the policies that NATO will use to do many of the same things that DoD did with mil-spec reform. The working group is going to look at NATO STANAGs, or standardization agreements, to see which ones might be good candidates to move to the private sector. We will also be looking at civil standards that can then be adopted by NATO rather than having NATO working groups writing their own.

The first test documents are some of the vehicle standards that NATO uses. These are fairly simple, but very important. For example, some of them involve the electrical connections between a truck and a trailer. This is a fairly simple thing, but before we had a STANAG on this, I’m told that, even though the connectors fit together, because there was no standard for how the pins were matched, switching on the blackout lights actually turned on all the lights in the trailer. Not a good thing when you’re trying to be invisible to the enemy.

So NATO is looking at about 11 of these important standards and are in the process of moving them to SAE International. They will then likely be adopted by NATO with a single cover-sheet STANAG that makes reference to the SAE standards. The next one we’ll be considering is a new ASTM International standard from Committee E54 on Homeland Security Applications for measuring the effectiveness of decontamination procedures.

There is also a tremendous focus in NATO on looking at the interoperability of military systems across nations and services. In fact, the principal work I do with NATO is to look at STANAGs for interoperability issues. We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.

It is a puzzle; how do you put together a NATO response force and make sure that everybody who comes to the table has at least a minimum level of interoperability. There are now 26 nations in NATO. Some are clearly more advanced than others, with newer equipment and infrastuctures, some clearly have larger militaries and budgets. One solution we’re considering is dividing up the library of NATO documents into those that address interoperability and those that don’t; those that do are the ones we will continue to call STANAGs.

The goal is to require that, if a nation ratifies a STANAG, that will imply that they will actually implement the standard. That has not always been the case — there is a way to sign an agreement while recording reservations, limiting your country’s use of that STANAG. By limiting STANAGs to those specifications that involve interoperability, and then requiring implementation of those STANAGs, we’re going part of the way toward ensuring interoperability in NATO military actions.

To date, NATO has held one interoperability conference in which we looked at how to get nations to deal with interoperability from both top-down and bottoms-up approaches. In the top-down mode, senior leaders come together to decide which areas have to be interoperable in order to be able to deploy a multi-national force. From the bottoms-up perspective, feedback from the field is necessary to show where interoperability standards are needed. We’re now finding out how to use both management perspectives. NATO is planning a follow-up conference this spring where its nations will report on what they’ve done to gather both types of information. It’s a very complicated area, but we’re moving toward greater interoperability.

A few years ago, you worked with NATO to expand its official definition of acceptable international standards developing organizations. Can you describe the issue that arose, what position you presented, and how the issue was resolved?

As I mentioned, NATO has been looking at adopting a standards management framework in which their goal is to adopt civil standards into NATO to replace STANAGs. In 2002, I saw that an initial draft of the policy for this procedure gave priority to standards from ISO and IEC [International Organization for Standardization and International Electrotechnical Commission] and to CEN [the European Committee for Standardization]. I presented a position saying that this draft policy had been written in a way that would hinder consideration of standards developed by U.S.-based standards developing organizations. I thought that signing on to this was the wrong thing for the U.S. to do.

This may have been the first time that some of the defense people in the European NATO nations had heard this kind of position from the United States. I don’t think there had been any kind of nefarious, “fortress-Europe” thinking at work — it was purely a lack of understanding of the way the U.S. system works. In response to my comments, the NATO team ended up negotiating for about a year to realign the policy, recognizing that we need to choose standards based on their technical merit and wide-spread market acceptance. I think the resulting policy worked out to everyone’s benefit.

On a related note, the DSPO was involved last year in the development of a white paper by the Strategic Standardization Forum for Aerospace regarding the aerospace industry’s need to select the most appropriate standards regardless of their origin. Why was the paper needed? Do you think the paper has resulted or will result in changes that will help the aerospace industry feel free to use the standards it deems appropriate in R&D?

SSFA is a group of representatives from SDOs and original equipment manufacturers, some first- and second-tier suppliers, and some government agencies. Early in our deliberations we talked about the fact that some nations were beginning to adopt laws that would exclude using any standards other than ISO’s, IEC’s and ITU’s as the basis of their national standards. We saw in this at least the possibility of making it more difficult for aerospace engineers to select the standards that were the best technically suited to their specific application and the most widely used.

Aerospace designers, like any others, select standards for a whole host of reasons. In some cases they have market-share reasons in mind; sometimes the reason is technical, sometimes it’s about safety, sometimes it’s economic. SSFA wanted to acknowledge that, while there are many reasons why you may select a standard, which organization writes it shouldn’t enter into that equation.

So we put together the position paper. It went through many iterations as we tried to come up with exactly the right language — we didn’t want to appear to be anti-ISO, IEC and ITU, because that’s certainly not the intent of the paper. The aerospace industry uses those standards along with all of the others — they just didn’t want to be told they had to use those specific standards. I think the SSFA membership was pleased with how the paper eventually stated their case.

I’m not certain what kind of long-term impact the paper will have, but we have begun to see a few other organizations make statements about where they stand on selection of standards, for example, ORGALIME, the European Engineering Industries Association, in its position paper on international standardization. It’s hard to get position papers to the right people in governments around the world, but we also intend for that paper to get into the hands of the U.S. government, too. The paper has at least heightened awareness of the issue for the legislative affairs people at the Aerospace Industries Association. It was an attempt to put a stake in the ground, and we succeeded at that.

Over 10 years ago, the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act was signed into law, requiring U.S. federal government agencies to utilize voluntary consensus standards whenever possible. The Defense Department has been a leader in fulfilling the promise of the NTTAA. How has DoD implemented NTTAA through your office?

Actually, the Defense Department was a leader in NTTAA implementation long before the NTTAA was even thought about. The DoD policy of adopting and using nongovernment standards dates back to before I was hired by the predecessor office to DSPO, and it was one of the first things I worked on when I was hired during the late 1970s. Part of what we were doing at the time was looking at which military documents might be replaced with nongovernment standards. One of the first tasks I undertook was rewriting and updating the DoD instructions on those policies.

One of my very early involvements with ASTM was having the opportunity to sit down, one-on-one, with Bill Cavanaugh [president of ASTM at the time], and talk about the ways that ASTM could support DoD in various areas and how DoD policies might be changed to make it easier for us to use voluntary standards and encourage personnel to participate in the process. He was very kind to a young and inexperienced engineer and helped me to make changes that are still in effect today.

When DoD began using non-government standards, our focus was on efficiency, not duplicating efforts, and staying aware of what the private sector was doing. As a result of some fairly good lessons learned from that experience, DoD then recommended to the Interagency Committee on Standards Policy that there be a federal government-wide policy to accomplish these goals. That was the birth of OMB Circular A119, the Office of Management and Budget’s policy on the use of nongovernmental standards by federal agencies and agency personnel’s participation in their development.

The ICSP thought that it would be good to memorialize the OMB circular in law. In the 1990s, DoD was involved with some congressional staffers in developing the language that would go into what would become the NTTAA.

So when the NTTAA was finally signed into law, I don’t think it significantly changed anything that DoD was doing in relation to this issue. We were already keeping records of how many documents we adopted; we had already begun to identify who and how many people were participating in various organizations. By 1996, when NTTAA was enacted, we felt that we had already moved a long way in that direction.

In 1987, DSPO initiated an awards program that honors DoD achievements in standardization; the program has grown in popularity over the years and has emphasized the key role standards play in DoD’s mission. How has the program elevated the perception of standardization among DoD staff?

We’ve been doing this for quite a few years, and it has had various levels of success, but I think the formula we have hit upon now has generated a great deal of success and a fair amount of recognition and notoriety. From the start, we were interested in recognizing individuals and teams. But even more than our recognizing them, we wanted to get Defense leadership to recognize the benefits of standardization. So creating the award program and then doing everything we could to establish its importance has been focused on those goals.

We now invite to the awards program not only the winner, but also their immediate supervisor or base commander; it’s really the base commander level that we’re trying to ensure is aware of the award. Often, people doing standardization work are in the background. They’re not the ones working on the latest flashy, high-tech marvel; they’re not the ones getting the headlines, but they are often the ones who enable the headline-getters.

We want to make sure that when that base commander has to make tough budget decisions, that he or she has heard of some of the good things that the standardization unit is doing and understands the benefit it has to the base, to the service and to Defense. That way, the commander will be more inclined to see standardization as an investment rather than an expense.

You worked with Defense Secretary William Perry, who presided over great change in the DoD in the 1990s. On what projects did you work with him and how did he influence you professionally?

Dr. Perry is a wonderfully nice man and also tremendously brilliant. One of the early themes that influenced my career was the DoD’s initiative to buy and use more commercial products, commercial buying practices and commercial support systems. This was back when we were trying to figure out how to move from mil-spec T-shirts to commercial T-shirts, for example. Dr. Perry was one of the early high-level policy advocates of this idea. At the time, under the Carter administration, he was the director of defense research and engineering. When he left the Pentagon and went back to the private sector, he was still involved with DoD on an advisory committee called the Defense Science Board. That was when I had the great privilege of working very closely with Dr. Perry on moving DoD procurement toward the commercial products and practices.

One of Dr. Perry’s strengths that I frequently saw in action at that time was that he, to borrow loosely from Martin Luther King, Jr., judged a person based on the content of his ideas, not on the rank on his shoulder. Dr. Perry would listen to a major just as long and just as intently as he would a four-star admiral, based on the content of his ideas. He would never intimidate anybody. He would probe, he would question, he would make sure the person really knew what they were talking about, but he would never embarrass or belittle. So, while I didn’t think much about it at the time, that’s now one of my guiding principles — one that I learned from seeing it well-demonstrated by Dr. Perry.

The other involved the next time that Dr. Perry came into the Pentagon. He came back in the 1990s as deputy secretary under Les Aspin, then became secretary of defense, and of course led mil-spec reform and acquisition reform. I have seen a lot of different management theories and philosophies-of-the-moment come and go, and one of the things I have observed is that when a leader comes in with a management theory like management by objectives, or total quality management or zero defects, well, there’s probably some good that comes out of that. But contrast that with someone like Dr. Perry who came in, not with a management philosophy, but with concrete notions of what really needed to change. He wanted to reform acquisition — and mil-spec reform was part of that. The changes that were made as a result of focusing on that program, rather than on a management philosophy, have really endured and made enormous changes in the way DoD does business. I feel privileged to have had the chance to work with someone of Dr. Perry’s stature, intellect and personality.

When did you first become involved with ASTM International and why? How has that involvement evolved over the years?

As I mentioned before, I had early experience having discussions with ASTM on a policy level regarding government use of private sector standards. Later in my career, I became involved in how requirements for food are defined. That gave me an opportunity to work with Committee F10 on Food. DoD, as it turns out, is the largest single procurer of food in the world. But there are a lot of other institutional buyers of food, and we thought it made sense to develop new nongovernment standards for food purchased by large institutions. We had some limited success, but this was an area where the manufacturers really didn’t want standards. Eventually we had to fold up our tent and go home. This was an interesting period in my career, though, because I got to see up close how committees work — developing documents, dealing with negatives and so forth.

I later participated on COTCO [ASTM International’s Committee on Technical Committee Operations] as well, and that was very enlightening. It was amazing to see how carefully people go through the procedures in ASTM’s regulations in infinite detail to make sure that they are fair and worded unambiguously.

Being asked to be on the board was a complete shock, but a pleasant one. At the time I hadn’t had a lot of recent activity with ASTM. I think ASTM is an extraordinarily well-run organization from almost every perspective, and I’m thrilled to be part of it.

In your long involvement with standards developing organizations, how have you seen them change over the years, and how well have they met the Defense Department’s needs in both the process of developing standards and the delivery of those products?

There have been a lot of obvious changes simply in the way that standards developing organizations have made greater and greater use of technology. Early in my involvement in nongovernment standards, it would have been unheard of to have a teleconference to do anything of importance. Now, that’s almost a daily activity. Years ago, there was a study done on how long it takes to get documents completed, and one of the findings from that study was that the vast majority of the time spent was when the standard sat in someone’s inbox, not getting worked on. It’s not the work itself that takes such a long time; it’s getting around to the work. And so the use of teleconferences, virtual meetings and Internet-based forums has made it a lot easier to schedule and actually do standards development work.

But there are a couple of other less obvious changes that I think are notable. One is that SDOs — and ASTM International has been a leader in this — recognize and try to influence their positioning in the global marketplace more now than ever before. When I first got into this business, most SDOs didn’t know and, I think, didn’t care very much what the rest of the world thought about their standards. They were fine as long as their immediate customers were happy. Today, SDOs have become more aware of how their standards are perceived and used internationally.

A second area where I see evolution is that standards developers are much more aware of and responsive to customer needs than ever before. Jim Thomas [ASTM president] has noted that there are at least 10 times as many users of standards as there are participants in the standards development process. SDOs are now listening more to those customers — to the way they use documents, what kind of documents they need, the speed at which they need them — and they are reacting to that. I see a much more businesslike environment than in the past. The standards world used to be much more of a scientific and academic enclave; it’s now more of a business, reflecting the way in which standards are used for business needs in trade and regulation.

In the context of ASTM International’s challenges in creating global and corporate awareness of standardization and ASTM’s process, expanding its base of non-U.S. participants, and so on, what are your hopes and goals for the organization in your year as chairman?

There are two areas that I’d like to focus on. As I said, I think ASTM is extremely well run, it is well-positioned in the international arena, andit is well-positioned financially. I have read over and over again that the best time for an organization to take a critical look at itself is when it is in this excellent position. One of the things we may want to do during our strategic retreat in the spring is to take a very close look at each of ASTM’s business areas and make sure we’re not missing an opportunity, or make sure there isn’t an iceberg out there we’re about to float into. From what I know of the Society, I don’t anticipate coming out of that retreat with major new directions. I don’t think there are any icebergs out there that we haven’t already mapped. But this is the right time to take a critical look.

The second area is that we have to continually look for new ways, new business models, for how we handle ASTM products. We have a terrific suite of products. And now we need to deal with the new ways in which customers want to use standards. Customers are becoming less interested in paper documents, and instead they see standards as bits and pieces of technical data that can be incorporated into a workflow system, excerpted in a contract, or written into an inspector’s sheet, and to have those pieces in some way automatically linked to the standard, so that when the standard gets updated, the links get updated. Industry seems to be willing to pay for that access, but so far the standards community has not come up with a good, workable business model to make that kind of access work. I doubt that we will magically come up with that formula in the next year, but I think it’s something we need to think about and focus on.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I’m a bit in awe of my challenge as the leader of ASTM, even for one year. But I can’t tell you how excited I am to have the opportunity. I am looking forward with great anticipation to a year of getting to work more closely with the ASTM staff to extend our tradition of continuous improvement of our processes and products. But even more, I’m looking forward to the chance to meet and work with the thousands of volunteers. I think we all realize that it is those people who contribute their technical expertise to this enterprise who really make the difference. They are the ones who make the products — standards, technical papers, test protocols, and so on — that are widely respected as some of the best in the world. It will be both intimidating and incredibly exciting and fulfilling. //

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