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Plain Talk for a New Generation
It's in Good Hands

In 1999, I wrote two articles about what people were saying about excesses in our standards system. They were saying that there was redundancy, conflict and waste, too many standards and too many standards organizations, that it was counterproductive, that it wasn’t good for business. Undoubtedly, there were places in the system where this was true. Undoubtedly, there are places in the system where this is still true. But I said it then and I will say it now: It is up to the people who use it to make the corrections the system needs.

How else would we do it? Would we abrogate our responsibility and hand our system over to someone who would make our decisions for us? I don’t think so. Yes, making our system work is a great responsibility. But responsibility has always been the price of freedom—freedom to decide what standards we will create, how we will create them, and with whom.

It’s been three years since I wrote those articles, and I’d like to revisit them with three standards news items.

One: ASTM’s Committee E10 on Nuclear Technology and Applications and ISO Technical Committee 85 on Nuclear Energy decided to use the mechanism provided by the ASTM/ISO Pilot Program, and have 25 standards developed by E10’s Subcommittee .01 on Dosimetry for Radiation Processing fast-tracked through the ISO system. These standards, which did not pre-exist in ISO, are now ISO/ASTM standards. Under the Pilot Program, they will be maintained by ASTM’s committee and accepted by the ISO member bodies.

Two: ASTM Committee D01 on Paints and Related Coatings, Materials, and Applications and ISO Technical Committee 35 on Paints and Varnishes signed a Memorandum of Understanding in which they have agreed not to duplicate one another’s standards, i.e., not to develop standards where existing, market-relevant standards fulfill the needs of the international community.

Three: D35 on Geosynthetics and ISO Committee TC 221 on Geosynthetics have signed a Memorandum of Agreement (1) that commits them to refrain from developing standards where existing standards fulfill the needs of the international community, to identify duplicate standards, and to take proactive steps to create one globally accepted standard.

These three items aren’t isolated incidences. They’re evidence, and there is more, that the voluntary system is working as it should. These standards decisions happened without decrees, without dictates, without politicians, regulation, force, or coercion. They happened because technical experts and business people decided that working together would be more profitable than working at odds. They happened because people didn’t want to do the same work in two or three places. Nothing mysterious here.

It’s the global marketplace getting smart. Every once in a while, someone says our system is broken and needs “fixing.” Well, it’s not broken. It is a self-correcting system, a system where the experts make the expert decisions, a system that works from the bottom up, a system that is self-governing and self-reliant. In other words, it’s in good hands. Yours.

James A. Thomas
President, ASTM

(1) Still awaiting ISO approval

Copyright 2002, ASTM

James Thomas, President, ASTM

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