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ANSI and CEA Partner on U.S. Government-Industry Dialogue

New York, Dec 13, 2012

How can U.S. government and industry be most effective at coordinated standards development? This and other questions related to government reliance on private-sector standards were the focus of Addressing National Priorities through Standards. Co-hosted by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the free event was held on December 11, 2012, in Arlington, Virginia, and drew approximately 70 stakeholders from government, industry, academia, and more.

“The public-private partnership in the United States is strong because it is a true partnership. Neither government nor industry claims or exerts overall authority over the other, and by working together in respectful cooperation, we are able to most effectively respond to the strategic needs of the nation,” explained S. Joe Bhatia, ANSI president and CEO, in the morning keynote address. “This dynamic makes our standardization system unique in the world.”

The first panel focused on the need for public-private cooperation in standards development, and described some success stories where effective partnership has addressed public policy initiatives. In one example cited multiple times by the panel, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR has a symbiotic relationship with the private-sector-developed standards on which some of its specifications are based. Without the standards, a comprehensive program like ENERGY STAR would not have been possible. And without ENERGY STAR, the privately developed standards might not have seen such broad use and recognition.

Further reading:

How the Blind Are Reinventing the iPhone,” The Atlantic (May 2012)

Panelists also noted the need for balance between accessibility requirements and standards, which can limit technological advances if they are overly prescriptive. For example, if a standard had specifically stated that buttons must be present on cell phones, then current advances in touch-screen technology would not have been possible.

Panel two set out the challenges and barriers to government participation in industry standards setting and adoption, and how they can be diminished. Representatives from government agencies articulated the importance of reliance on private-sector standards, and on continued dialogue and outreach to better understand the technical activities being advanced within the standards community. When asked why government may not participate in every standards development activity, panelists explained that not all technical work is seen as a regulatory issue. And with budget and resource concerns, agencies may feel that they need to make careful selections about which activities they can support.

From the private-sector perspective, standards developing organizations (SDOs) must perform a “complicated dance” to develop consensus standards that are not only responsive to agency needs and technological advances, but also have an eye toward global harmonization of requirements – an aspect that is of critical importance to manufacturers looking to produce and sell in various markets.

The final panel focused on facilitating government and industry cooperation, including the ongoing need for increased participation by government representatives in the standards development process. Panelists acknowledged that quality communication is a two-way street. Agencies must do a better job of participating and engaging with SDOs to communicate their needs, and SDOs must increase their efforts toward outreach and collaboration. Panelists also cited a recent trend of “SDO as service provider,” where an agency issues a request for proposal on standards development in a given priority area. The agency then selects a single SDO for partnership on that area of standardization. This approach allows an agency to focus its efforts and resources on a single standards development activity.

The panel also discussed the recent Federal Register notice on whether and how to supplement the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-119. [see related article] Drafting is underway and a new public comment period will be opened to accept further feedback on this critical issue. A review committee found that initial public comments showed overwhelming support for continued government reliance on private-sector voluntary consensus standards and conformity assessment solutions. That said, agencies have acknowledged that sometimes the pace of rulemaking isn’t capable of keeping up with the rapid pace of technology standardization. This results in out-of-date standards being codified, which can frustrate SDOs and challenge manufacturers who are looking to comply with regulations.

“Standards are important for innovation, and innovation is what is going to save this country through economic growth and job creation,” said Gary Shapiro, CEA president and CEO, during his afternoon keynote address. “The U.S. government’s role in standardization is to get engaged and work collaboratively with industry. Dialogues like today’s are an important part of increasing this cooperative spirit.”

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