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The Work of Two ASTM International Board Committees

The Committee on Technical Committee Operations and the Committee on Standards, standing committees of the ASTM International board of directors, have been likened to the legislative and judicial branches, respectively, of the U.S. government. Briefly and generally speaking, COTCO makes the rules; COS verifies that the rules have been followed.

The groups are critical to the strength of ASTM International standards because of their different but interconnected focus on the development process. Both are standing committees of ASTM International's board, and each includes eight members plus a chairman; members serve a three-year term and the chairman serves a three-year term.

Through the Regulations Governing ASTM Technical Committees, the manual for how committees operate, COTCO provides parameters to ensure the development of consensus standards in accordance with rigorous democratic procedures. That's how the committee's role is described in the preface to the Regulations.

As stated in the committee's scope, "COTCO develops and maintains the Regulations Governing ASTM Technical Committees and acts upon recommended changes." (Its scope does not include actions on standards.) Lawrence Carbary, construction industry scientist at Dow Corning USA, Midland, Mich., and current COTCO chairman, puts it this way: "COTCO develops and recommends the means for achieving the most efficient operation of technical committees and is concerned with the scope, structure, operation, development and planning of these technical committees. This diverse group of experts helps ASTM maintain the principles and direction upon which the organization was founded."

The Regulations cover the heart of the consensus standards development process: the assignment of voting privileges, ballot distribution, consideration of ballot returns, antitrust and patents in standards, and more. COTCO addresses any issues with or suggestions for revisions to the Regulations, and, as Carbary notes, acts as an adviser to the board and staff when needed.

Potential changes to the Regulations are sent to committee officers via circular letter and are subject to approval by the full ASTM International board of directors. One recent change, published in the April 2013 edition, is a new section that says trade associations for multiple organizations of exclusively the same classification are to be classified in accordance with those organizations' principal business activities.

The formation, merger and discharge of committees are also addressed in the Regulations, and committee bylaws (committee leadership structure, quorum, meeting decisions) are subject to COTCO approval. COTCO ensures that bylaws and bylaws changes meet Regulations requirements, and it works to prevent jurisdictional overlap.

According to the Regulations, committees must follow the current Form and Style for ASTM Standards, "the basic textbook for anyone writing an ASTM standard," when writing standards. The Committee on Standards has responsibility for this reference, which promotes uniformity in ASTM standards so that standards users can find what is needed more easily and understand the information more quickly. Requests for revisions to the Form and Style manual go to COS and any potential changes are sent to executive subcommittees for balloting.

COS reviews all technical committee standards actions to ensure that procedures have been followed. "Procedures for voting and handling of negatives in a consensus organization such as ASTM International are much more important than those of a democratic simple majority system," says Rodney Conn, senior chemist at Smooth-On Inc., Easton, Pa., and chairman of COS. "To build consensus, every volunteer's voice must be heard and duly considered." COS reviews every non-persuasive vote to be sure that all aspects of a negative vote have been addressed.

COS also hears appeals from members who feel that procedural violations may have occurred. That role especially illustrates how COS acts as a judicial arm of ASTM. In this role, COS will invite a technical committee representative and the appellant to present their case at the next COS meeting, following set time periods for both the intention to appeal and for sending the appeal to COS. When an appeal is put to a vote, two thirds of COS members must agree for an appeal to be accepted or denied.

In all its work, COS works alongside ASTM members and staff. "COS does not merely hand out decisions but rather interacts with all of ASTM International," says Conn. "COS works closely with committee officers, members and staff to ensure that we have a proper understanding of the items before us."

The "Technical Committees" Web page includes links to Regulations Governing ASTM Technical Committees (available in six languages) and to Form and Style for ASTM Standards. Contact your committee's staff manager with any questions.

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