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Blurred Boundaries?

We are writing in response to the August article, “Blurring the Boundaries,” by Nelson Milder.

Mr. Milder incorrectly argues his premise by beginning with outdated information. He references a letter written by the Science Committee leadership that dates back to February of this year, an issue that has since been rectified. He also uses dated information about the manufactured housing industry such as 1994 average cost estimates of homes even though yearly statistics are available up to the 1998 average of $43,800.

The author is most concerned with preserving standards development as the “collegial activity among like minds, or at least among minds that fully understood the process as practiced for many decades.”

As engineers, you understand that when a specific system does not work in a particular situation, the system must be altered. This does not mean, however, that the system needs to be altered in all other circumstances. This legislation is needed in order to work with the unique federal building code situation that exists for the manufactured housing industry. Manufactured housing standards are both written and enforced by the government. This legislation simply ensures that the Secretary will act on a voluntary consensus committee’s recommendations to update the current code, rather than allowing them to languish as they have.

The bill is strongly supported by the Administration, consumers, and by the industry. In addition, Senator Rockefeller, who is the author of the Senate Technology Transfer Improvements Act and who clearly understands the significance of the 1996 law regarding the ground rules for the federal government’s use of private sector standards, is also an original sponsor of the manufactured housing legislation.

While there may be modifications to the traditional framework of the standards development process, this does not mean there is conflict with P.L. 104-113, or OMB Circular A-119. Nor does it mean that this is a system that should be dismissed simply because it is unique and it addresses a specific problem. The system outlined in the bill will achieve what Mr. Miller references as “a highly successful cooperative relationship developing among government agencies and the private sector,” one that will benefit all affected parties.

Chris Stinebert
Manufactured Housing Institute

Danny Ghorbani
Manufactured Housing Association for Regulatory Reform

Author’s Response

The assertion of Messrs. Stinebert and Ghorbani that the legislative concerns expressed in the February letter from the leadership of the House Science Committee to the chairman of the House Banking Committee have been “rectified” is incorrect. Such rectification would require that HR 1776 be modified to reference Section 12 of the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act of 1995 (P.L. 104-113) in bill language, and that such language be made consistent with OMB Circular A-119—which has not happened.

Messrs. Stinebert and Ghorbani argue that the situation in the manufactured housing industry is unique because industry standards “are both written and enforced by the government.” In fact, this situation is neither unique nor desirable. Federal standards governing private sector business activity is precisely the anomaly that has been corrected by P.L. 104-113. The Department of Defense, for example, achieved major efficiencies and cost savings by replacing most of its MILSpec standards with private sector, voluntary consensus standards.

If the manufactured housing industry were to acknowledge the validity of the points made in my article, they would find that P.L.104-113 provides the industry the opportunity for less government control over their business activities. The law provides the industry and HUD the means to work cooperatively with private sector standards development organizations to produce a workable standards framework to meet the needs of both the industry and government. This approach is proving to be a winning strategy in other regulated sectors of the nation’s economy.

—Nelson L. Milder

Headgear Is Important

I read with interest your August 2000 issue of SN. I am writing in particular with respect to the article on page 16 of that edition on snowboards.

As a member of ASTM Committee F08 on Sports Equipment and Facilities, and a long-term advocate for appropriate headgear for non-motorized sports, I was dismayed to see that the snowboarder so graphically depicted on page 16 is not, in fact, wearing a helmet. This is of particular concern because the F08 Headgear Subcommittee has recently passed a headgear standard for snowboarding and snow skiing! This was approved as of the May 2000 F08 Committee meetings.

It is interesting that this photograph would appear in the first issue of SN to come out after the approval of the snowboarding helmet!

Mark S. Granger
ASTM F08 Headgear Subcommittee

More on WTO and the Vienna Agreement

Kudos to Jim Thomas for writing such a clear and concise article regarding the “politics” of the ISO/CEN Vienna Agreement. If left unresolved, I’m afraid the TBT Agreement would lead to, not eliminate, trade barriers. It appears that the ISO/CEN arena differ fundamentally with the founding principle of ASTM: that the standard development process be open, transparent, and be carried out by “people who develop and use standards.” The United States should continue to speak out and point out candidly that they are not “walking their talk.”

Alex T.C. Lau, Imperial Oil
Toronto, Ont. Canada

Copyright 2000, ASTM