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Remarks by Karen Brown
Deputy Director, National Institute of Standards and Technology
to the National Conference of Standards Laboratories
July 13, 1999


Good afternoon. I've been at the National Institute of Standards and Technology for just a few months. In fact, I still have to watch myself when I speak about "how we do it at IBM." I took this job because I saw it as a wonderful opportunity to do something different and to make a difference. I knew quite a bit about NIST, and what I knew I liked. Now that I am in the job, I like it even more.

I have been saying -- and quoted quite a bit -- as saying "You don't have to be bad to get better." And that pretty well summarizes my approach to the job. It certainly applies to our activities that are of special interest to this group. I think that NIST has a great track record of success, and we've got probably the world's single best collection of measurement experts. That doesn't mean we can't improve, that we can't serve you better -- and that's just what I intend to see happen.

It is with great pleasure that I note the longstanding partnership between NIST and the National Conference of Standards Laboratories that dates back to the very beginning of NCSL. For many years, NIST hosted the annual workshops at our Gaithersburg and Boulder sites. With the tremendous growth that the NCSL organization has achieved over the years, it is no longer possible to accommodate such a large gathering of metrologists at NIST. However, we of course look forward to continuing our long and fruitful relationship with NCSL.

First let me update you on one of the items that came up at last year's NCSL meeting, and then on some of the areas that we at NIST have been focusing on lately. Our work in the standards field has brought to light some issues that also affect the calibration community.

It’s been estimated that 80 percent of world commodity trade – about $4 trillion dollars is affected, in some way, by standards and associated technical regulations.

NIST has been, and continues to be, committed to addressing standards and calibration challenges.

Last year, NIST Director Ray Kammer informed you that we would be hosting a summit on international standards issues in September in Washington on World Standards Day to explore the need for a "national standards strategy." NIST has sought -- and continues to seek-- out the views of individual standards-developing organizations, companies, federal agencies, and other groups. Some of you may have been among the 300 attendees. The key conclusion of the summit was that there is a need for a national standards strategy -- but not an all-encompassing, "one size fits all" strategy. Each sector must devise and implement its own strategy. However, there are some transcending elements.

First, the U.S. must participate actively in international standards organizations. If you don’t show up, you forfeit the right to criticize. ANSI, as the U.S. representative in the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), must strengthen its international participation. In order to accomplish this, ANSI must increase its resources and the federal government, as a user of standards, should help fund ANSI’s participation in international standards. As a start, NIST has included in its proposed budget for the next fiscal year $1 million to help support ANSI participation in international standards. What is also needed is a decision-making mechanism for focusing industry activities and resources at the level or levels -- national, regional, or international -- that are judged appropriate for a particular standard.

Second, the process for setting international standards must be fair and open to all interested parties. It must be market driven. Technical considerations, not political ones, should be the sole basis for promulgating international standards.

There are a variety of other issues pertaining to international standards ranging from intellectual property protection, to revenue generation for standards developing organizations, to the cost and slowness of traditional standard setting processes.

As an outcome of this summit, ANSI has created a draft National Standards Strategy to be circulated for comments. Working together, NIST and ANSI have drafted several white papers identifying and clarifying issues raised at the summit as potential barriers to working more closely with the IEC and ISO on international standards. These papers are under review and are expected to be published later this year. Although a National Standards Strategy is far from complete, we feel substantial progress has been made in identifying the issues involved and in beginning to address those issues. The consensus of the group was that the best way to approach this is to work more closely with ISO and IEC.

A more coordinated system may be able to achieve cost savings as well as achieving the worldwide recognition it deserves.

On February 9, NIST, ANSI and the American Council of Independent Laboratories (ACIL) sponsored a comprehensive Conformity Assessment Workshop in Washington, D.C. More than 150 persons from a wide range of sectors participated. All components of the U.S. conformity assessment system were described and discussed, with the goal of identifying problems and concerns.

In a follow-up session about the current system, the following points were made:

  • Conformity assessment costs are too high; accreditation fees are a barrier to entry for firms;
  • The U.S. system must better conform with the global system;
  • Customers are frustrated by the requirements of the global system;
  • MRAs are a mixed blessing;
  • Costs of quality systems certification are too high;
  • We need to pay more attention to the "one standard" part of "one standard, one test"; and
  • The U.S and global systems are fluid and developing (and we should be patient).

There was general agreement that the national system was working satisfactorily, with the possible exception of laboratory accreditation. The consensus was that coordination between the national system and state and international systems is the major problem area.

There was much debate, with healthy differences of opinion about the need for follow-up activity to the February 9 meeting.

NIST, reflecting its fundamental commitment to quality and excellence, has worked with industry to develop the Baldrige Quality approach for organizational excellence, as well as helping NCSL develop specialized quality programs, such as the ANSI/NCSL Z-5.40, for commercial calibration laboratories. NIST is using the Baldrige Quality continuous improvement process on an organization-wide basis to improve its focus on the business issues relevant to its customers and market requirements and to ensure the quality of its measurement services. Quality for measurement services means getting the right answer, at the lowest cost, in the shortest time, every time, in a way that delights the customer.

A recently implemented database system, the Information Support System for Calibrations (ISSC), will provide customers with access to real-time information on the status of their calibration jobs. To support an increased NIST management focus on improving customer satisfaction by improving turnaround time, the system identifies bottlenecks in the calibration process and provides both NIST managers and technical staff with automatic warnings of impending late jobs. We are starting to see reductions in turnaround time and improvement in return of equipment by the promised completion date and we intend to focus on continuously improving these metrics.

We also are working on pioneering remote calibration techniques. NIST has developed procedures to use the Internet to enhance remote calibrations. Internet-assisted calibrations have been established for some measurements of flow and radioactivity. In addition, under the auspices of the Interamerican System of Metrology (known by its Spanish abbreviation of SIM), SIMnet, a network including five U.S. companies (all NCSL members) is being pilot-tested to enable collaboration among measurement laboratories for calibration of high-precision digital multimeters. These efforts are critical to meeting tomorrow’s advanced measurement needs.

NIST also now has catalogs with all information about calibrations, standard reference materials (SRMs), and standard reference data available on the Web (www.nist.gov), along with technical contacts and references to publications documenting the service. For example, the SRM Web site includes SRM/RM measurement data, Certificates, Material Safety Data Sheets, general ordering information and stocking status. NIST welcomes suggestions for adding to or improving information on these sites.

As to what is happening in the future, NIST has a proposed signing date of August 24 for an arrangement with the European Commission for cooperation in the fields of metrology and measurement standards. This is one of the first implementing arrangements under the U.S.–E.U. Science and Technology agreement. The purpose of the arrangement is to demonstrate the degree to which equivalent measurement capability exists between NIST technical laboratories and the European National laboratory network and to augment the scientific and technical capabilities of the participating institutions. This agreement lays the foundation for future recognition of calibration certificates.

Last, but certainly not least, NIST is scheduled to sign the International Committee of Weights and Measures Mutual Recognition Arrangement (with a few minor changes) late this year. The objectives of the agreement are to establish the degree of equivalence of national measurement standards maintained by National Metrology Institutes, to provide for the mutual recognition of calibration and measurement certificates issued by NMIs, and thereby to provide governments and other parties with a secure technical foundation for wider agreements related to international trade, commerce and regulatory affairs.

NIST intends to sign the MRA because it should cost significantly less than independent recognition of individual countries. The cost savings will result largely from a smaller set of comparisons. The agreement will provide benchmarking information of high levels of capability through the key comparison data.

We think these arrangements to achieve international recognition of calibration certificates will make your services more valuable to manufacturers and will improve the competitiveness of U.S. products and measurements in international markets.

You are important to your customers and the economy of the United States. We at NIST are committed to working with you to make quality work -- at home, in the industry and for our customers. We are committed to getting the right answer at the lowest cost, in the shortest time, every time -- and to having delighted customers.

Thank you.