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From the Editor's Desk
Making a Hard Job Easier

Developing a standard is complex. A lot goes into writing a high-quality and relevant standard in an environment such as ASTM International’s, which makes an art of standards development through tried-and-true procedures. Now try writing that same standard in a government agency where there may be a lack of infrastructure for the timely development and maintenance of standards, and where the needs of industry must be anticipated.

In 1996, the U.S. National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act (NTTAA) was signed into law, specifying that, wherever possible, U.S. government agencies are to turn to the private sector standards development system to develop their regulatory and procurement standards. For seven years, this new requirement has been changing the culture of federal agencies, and the result has been a powerful partnership between the public and private sectors in terms of standards development. The benefits are felt all around — agencies save time and money, industries have a say in the standards they are going to have to meet, and the regulators and those they regulate have a greater sense of unity in ensuring the public interest.

This month’s feature section takes a look at successful partnerships between ASTM technical committees and U.S. government agencies, some of which began well before the signing of the NTTAA. Two major themes arise in these articles: 1) The “command-and-control” mentality necessary when regulatory agencies create their own standards in isolation is changed to a spirit of cooperation when other stakeholders are brought into the mix. 2) The public good is served by simplification of the standards development process when the faster, private sector standards development infrastructure is used.

The article by Tim Canfield and Christopher Ingersoll best exemplifies the first theme. Their story of the formation of ASTM Committee E47 on Biological Effects and Environmental Fate in 1980 gives a snapshot of a change in regulatory culture that was ahead of its time. After years of frustration in attempting to develop standards for aquatic toxicology that would find wide national acceptance and use, stakeholders gathered together to form E47 — and those parties were led by employees of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Canfield and Ingersoll relate how EPA employee and founding E47 member, Charles Stephan, recognized that “although EPA had the power to be judge and jury, this was not in the best interests of the EPA in the long run.” Bringing scientists in from industry to develop the very standards that they would use in meeting regulations has resulted in the development of over 100 standards for assessing the fate and effects of contaminants released into the environment. The authors point out how this cooperative mindset, although common today, was a pioneering idea for regulatory agencies in 1980.

In the article, “Federal, State, and Local Property Transfer Efforts,” the authors describe the transfer of Air Force property to the city of San Antonio. Recognizing that existing environmental site assessment standards did not meet the specific needs of base closure processes, the military and the EPA requested in 1995 that ASTM Committee D34 on Waste Management develop new standards to facilitate environmental site assessment. D34’s response was quick, and two approved standards were ready for use in 1996. The parties involved met a challenging transfer timeline through the streamlined standards development process offered by the private sector.

Read the articles in this month's feature section for more on how the public sector finds standards development solutions with private sector developers such as ASTM.

Maryann Gorman
Editor in Chief

Copyright 2003, ASTM