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Congressional Staffers Explore Standards and Conformance at ANSI-ACUS-NIST Event

SDOs from U.S. Celebration of World Standards Day Planning Committee Exhibit and Join Discussion

New York, Jun 12, 2013

Congressional staffers from both sides of the aisle came together in the Rayburn House Office Building on Friday, June 7, for a discussion on the benefits of standardization. Over 70 people attended the event, which featured speakers from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS), and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), along with exhibits by a number of standards developing organizations (SDOs) from the U.S. Celebration of World Standards Day (WSD) Planning Committee.

Entitled “The U.S. Public-Private Standardization System: A Critical Tool for a Strong Economy and Nation,” the event was hosted by the House Judiciary Committee and focused on how the government and private sector work together to identify solutions to public policy issues.

To understand the public-private partnership, one must first understand how our national standards and conformity assessment system works, explained S. Joe Bhatia, ANSI president and CEO. Many other countries have a top-down system, where a single government agency drives the standards and conformance activities that will govern its products, systems, and services. In the United States, our system is bottom up, which means that it is primarily voluntary, private-sector led, and marketplace driven. As a result, there are multiple SDOs in this country, each working in response to a specific marketplace need. The U.S. government participates actively in the standards-setting process and often relies upon private-sector standards and conformity assessment solutions in its regulations.

Underscoring Mr. Bhatia’s comments, George Arnold, director of the NIST Standards Coordination Office (SCO), provided some telling statistics:

  • There are over 10,000 citations of standards in regulations. Of these, 80% are private-sector standards.
  • As a result of the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act (NTTAA), over 3,900 government-unique standards have been replaced by private-sector standards.
  • Over 3,000 federal government employees participate in more than 500 SDOs. At NIST alone, 400 employees participate in private-sector-led standardization work, sitting side-by-side with colleagues from industry in their respective fields.

The public-private partnership is also central to ACUS’s activities. As chairman Paul Verkuil described, ACUS is designed to make government work better by looking at opportunities for connection and collaboration – both among agencies and with the private sector. Mr. Verkuil spoke at length about the incorporation by reference (IBR) of standards into regulation, and made reference to the December 2011 ACUS Recommendation on the subject [see related article].

During the Q&A session, attendees wondered about future IBR-related concerns that may arise as the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) implements the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011. Per Section 24 of the Act, PHMSA will be required to cease the incorporation of voluntary consensus standards by reference into its regulations unless those standards have been made publicly and freely available on the Internet [see related article]. ACUS attorney advisor Emily Bremer described this situation as particularly challenging, as it could result in PHMSA having to stop using its most important standards, which could negatively impact public safety. Furthermore, it puts the agency in a position where it must violate one law or another – the Act stipulating that the standards be made freely available, or the copyright of the SDOs that retain the intellectual property rights associated with the standards. Mr. Bhatia then referenced ANSI’s current efforts to develop an IBR portal where SDOs could post read-only versions of their standards. He also noted that many SDOs have already moved forward independently with similar projects.

“It’s a good thing that government doesn’t do everything [itself],” concluded Mr. Verkuil, speaking about the benefits of the public-private partnership with respect to standards and conformance. “It’s a good thing for society and for the philosophy of how [our nation’s] government works. And it’s a good thing to enlist private-sector expertise that is otherwise unavailable to policy makers.”

Outreach to Capitol Hill is a major focus of the U.S. Celebration of WSD Planning Committee, and many of the SDO members of this group were on-hand to exhibit materials and speak with staffers and representatives about their standards development and conformity assessment activities. Exhibiting organizations included:

  • ASME
  • ASTM International
  • The Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS)
  • The IAPMO Group
  • The International Code Council (ICC)
  • The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)
  • National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS)
  • SAE International
  • The Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA)

Attendees of Friday’s event are also encouraged to join in the U.S. Celebration of WSD reception and dinner, which will take place on October 3 in Washington, DC. To learn more about WSD or register, visit