Remarks by Dr. Arden Bement
Director, National Institute of Standards & Technology
At ANSI Board of Directors Luncheon
Thursday, March 21, 2002
Good afternoon. It has been a real pleasure for me to meet many of you and to renew acquaintances with others.
Long before I began my official duties at NIST, I had developed a deep appreciation for the strategic importance of standards and for the key roles that ANSI plays in this vital arena.
When I was at the Department of Defense, I became aware that we were busy duplicating perfectly good work in the private sector by crafting military-unique standards. I have followed the efforts of my colleague, Dr. Perry, and his successors to move DOD toward much greater use of private-sector standards.
My appreciation of the importance of standards to business was cultivated by my experiences at TRW. With more than 250 facilities in over 35 countries, we could not afford to treat standards as an afterthought-at least not if we wanted to operate efficiently and compete effectively.
From the corporate level, one can look out further on the horizon and consider the value of standards on even larger scales: from the perspectives of entire industrial sectors, nations, the global economy, modern society.
To all of us here, it is obvious that standards are integral to the workings of just about everything in today's world.
Unfortunately, this basic fact is often overlooked. Most people assume that the standards infrastructure is a given-a kind of automatic endowment shared by all.
The situation is like one described by Emerson. According to the nineteenth century poet, "We learn geology the morning after the earthquake." So, too, with standards. People often learn the fundamental importance of standards when something goes wrong or when we are impeded from accomplishing an objective-like exchanging data or satisfying a regulatory requirement without re-testing.
Suffice it to say, we-all of us here and everyone else who is committed to strengthening the standards infrastructure-must persist in the job of informing and educating people, from consumers to business executives to senior government officials and policymakers.
I want to take this opportunity to reaffirm the high value that NIST places on its relationship with ANSI.
This long-standing partnership, I believe, has grown stronger in recent years, thanks, in large part, to the shared vision of Mark Hurwitz and Ray Kammer, my predecessor at NIST. Both recognized the critical need to galvanize efforts to foster global recognition of U.S. standards and, therefore, the U.S. technology embodying those standards.
One product of this strengthened relationship is the ANSI-led National Standards Strategy. Although there still is a way to go on implementation, the strategy has succeeded in creating greater awareness of the need to work more diligently at the international level. It also has served to focus other countries' attention on the crucial question of what is an international standard? --as well as on the procedures for developing standards for international acceptance. ANSI is slowly pushing the world standards arena to focus on the process by which a standard is developed, rather than rely solely on its pedigree.
NIST is committed to working with ANSI to implement the National Standards Strategy. For the past two years we have provided a $500,000 grant to ANSI to increase U.S. representation in the development of international standards.
In addition, NIST is carrying out complementary technical activities to help to eliminate standards-related barriers to trade. And, I should note, these activities are strongly supported by Commerce Secretary Don Evans, who is an avid proponent of expanded world trade.
Here are a few examples.
In the category of deep infrastructure is our work to facilitate measurement traceability and comparability on a global scale. NIST was the driving force behind a 1999 international agreement [NOTE: technically, an "arrangement"] that calls for "mutual recognition of national measurement standards and of calibration and measurement certificates issued by national metrology institutes"-of which NIST is one.
The groundwork required to achieve this goal is a massive undertaking. The results could yield major dividends for exporters.
Now, because of missing links in the global chain of measurement traceability, exported products may have to undergo duplicative testing to enter foreign markets. The consequences are delays and increased costs of doing business.
With other government agencies and with ANSI, we are targeting critical activities in ISO, the IEC, and other standards organizations. Our aim is to avoid adoption of international product standards that may pose barriers to U.S. exports. Focus areas include health care, information technology, building and construction, manufacturing, and telecommunications. In all, NIST staff members represent U.S. interests in some 180 international standards committees and consortia.
NIST and the Foreign Commercial Service continue to sponsor five standards experts who are strategically located in key regions: Brazil, Mexico, the European Union (Brussels), Saudi Arabia, and India. Though few in number, the Commerce Department Standards Experts have proved to be a valuable resource for industry. These experts have made measurable economic differences to U.S. industry by working to eliminate standards and test procedures that are barriers to U.S. exports in areas ranging from product labels to water meters to pipefittings.
Then, of course, there is NIST's role in leading the federal transition to voluntary consensus standards. The transition is gaining momentum. Solid progress has been reported in the most recent report. This report shows, for example, that the Federal government is now developing far fewer agency-unique standards. In all, more than 2,700 Federal personnel participate in private sector standards bodies.
I suspect that Belinda Collins and her colleagues are keeping you up to date on these and other activities that help to further the important goals that we share with ANSI. But you should know that we continue to search for opportunities to advance these goals. For example, we are exploring options for creating a two-way system for alerting interested parties in the United States and the European Union to plans for new or revised technical regulations.
Proposed health, safety, and environmental regulations would be tracked closely, with emphasis on flagging voluntary standards that would be referenced as part of a regulation.
The final point I want to make is that NIST's programs, projects, and services are designed to support U.S. industry. So, we need-and our bosses need-to hear from you. Should we be doing more in a specific area, or less in another? Should we be doing things differently? We welcome your input.
NIST values its long and productive relationship with ANSI; I intend to continue that relationship during my tenure as Director of NIST.
I look forward to working with all of you as we build a standards infrastructure for that meets the needs of the United States and all members of the global community.