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How to Increase U.S. Government Participation in ASTM Standards Development Activities

by Jeff Adkins

There is little argument that a good relationship between government agencies and standards developing organizations (SDOs) is necessary. The importance of this was amplified when, in 1996, the National Technology and Transfer and Advancement Act, Public Law 104-113, was passed, requiring federal agencies and departments to use technical standards that are developed or adopted by voluntary consensus standard bodies. Additionally, the act prescribed that government agencies needed to actively participate in the development of the standards.

Ironically, there was still a limitation in place — federal agencies could not budget for this activity. However, beginning in fiscal year 2002, Public Law 107-107 nullified language included in much older legislation (Section 5946 of Title 5 of the U. S. Code), which restricted the use of appropriated funds for payment of membership dues or the expenses of an individual at society or association meetings or conventions. See the Membership page for a summary of this change. On this page, in the general information box, click on the Expenses of Government Personnel link to access the summary of the change.

ASTM Makes It Easy

Government employees, like most private sector employees, often find it difficult to obtain funding to attend meetings. In light of this, ASTM has made significant strides to reduce the time and resources necessary for participation in its standard development process. ASTM offers the use of Interactive Standards Development Forums to develop new standards and prepare them for ballot. In addition to Forums, all of ASTM’s ballot activity is done electronically. Ballots are open for 30 days and can be accessed 24/7 while the ballot is open. The use of electronic balloting saves members time by making it much easier to review and respond to ballots. If you would like to learn more about electronic balloting, please contact your staff manager. Recently, ASTM International has begun to offer Virtual Meetings, a Web-based tool that combines teleconferencing with Internet document viewing/editing. This process enables committees to conduct meetings at their desktops. More information about Virtual Meetings can be found here; click on the Virtual Meetings link.

These mechanisms enable people to participate and develop consensus standards without the expense of airfare and time away from the office. In today’s economic conditions this is a great benefit.

The Benefits

Why do members of federal agencies join ASTM? As the staff manager for Committee C26 on Nuclear Fuel Cycle, I asked several of my members this question. Committee C26 works closely with the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Chuck Interrante of the NRC responded by saying, “ASTM collects a number of views from various stakeholders and develops standards from this vast pool of knowledge. This is important from the NRC’s perspective, since they perform their regulatory duties using the feedback they receive within ASTM from those they regulate and from various technical experts in the industry.”

How to Do It

What can ASTM technical committees do to enhance participation? Both Chuck Interrante and C26 member Wanda Mitchell, of DOE, agreed that obtaining support from their management to participate in development activities is sometimes difficult. In order to address this concern, I highly recommend reading and employing the suggestions made in a five-part article written for SN by Laura Hitchcock of the Boeing Company, “Succeeding as a Standards Professional.” This continuing article can be found in the August through December 2002 issues, available online. In it, Hitchcock applies her 20 years of experience, giving a blueprint for professionals to obtain support for their participation, while maximizing returns to their employers. Included in this return are the cost savings that agencies experience since they no longer need to rely on government staff or pay an outside source to develop their standards.

Communication between ASTM and government agencies is vital to a healthy, prosperous relationship between these organizations. There are a number of ways to ensure that this happens. For example, DOE has monthly conference calls in support of its Technical Standards Program. I regularly participate on these calls to learn the direction that DOE is taking, and I, in turn, can share with DOE what activities ASTM is pursuing. This has proven to be successful in the past and strengthens the relationship between the organizations. ASTM, DOE and NRC also participate in semiannual SDO meetings. At these meetings, DOE and NRC outline their needs and solicit assistance from SDOs to satisfy these needs. These meetings provide an excellent opportunity for interaction among all concerned.

In Committee F18 on Electrical Protective Equipment for Workers, there is a formal liaison program between ASTM and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration OSHA (OSHA). This program opens an effective line of communication between the two organizations wherein OSHA can express its standards needs and F18 can address these needs.

Committee D10 on Packaging has taken another approach. D10 established a subcommittee, D10.94, ASTM/Government Liaison Group on Packaging, to act as the liaison between ASTM and the General Services Administration (GSA) and Department of Defense (DOD). During subcommittee meetings, representatives from the GSA share government mandates that need to be incorporated into existing ASTM standards, or that need to be addressed in new standards. This subcommittee has existed for more than 25 years and has proven to be a valuable asset linking the two communities.

There is already a significant amount of interaction between various ASTM committees and different governmental agencies, but are you making the most out of this interaction on your technical committee? Take some time to look at your committee and decide if there is more you could do to maximize the vast amount of technical expertise and experience available in both ASTM and a particular government agency. If so, develop a course of action and proceed. Also, remember that ASTM staff is always here to provide any assistance you may need. //

Copyright 2003, ASTM

Jeff Adkins is a staff manager in ASTM’s Technical Committee Operations Division.