A "vision" for U.S. laboratory accreditation in the 21st century has been developed that defines an improved national system that could eliminate duplication of effort, save money and increase U.S. competitiveness in domestic and global markets.
This vision for improving laboratory accreditation in the United States was presented at a recent open forum sponsored by the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology at the request of the American National Standards Institute and ACIL, formerly known as the American Council of Independent Laboratories.
This view of the future describes a U.S. system that could lead to a cooperative relationship between the public and private sectors. In turn, such a relationship would result in a simplified system whereby a testing laboratory will be accredited in a given field of testing, with worldwide recognition of the laboratory's competence; and the user will benefit from a test performed once, with worldwide acceptance of the assessment.
The vision statement was developed by the steering group of the Laboratory Accreditation Working Group. The LAWG was sponsored by NIST at the request of ANSI and ACIL to evaluate the current situation in laboratory accreditation in the United States and to propose an improved system. The group confirmed there is widespread agreement within industry and government that the current situation results in unnecessary burden.
The steering group of the LAWG consists of the three sponsoring organizations and representatives from each of the stakeholders: laboratories, accreditors, and the government and private-sector entities that require accreditation of laboratories for their own purposes.
The open forum was held to explore the issues, seek ways to improve the nation's infrastructure for laboratory accreditation and arrive at a consensus plan. In the forum, reports from the different sectors, including international trade experts, focused on the need for agreement on common procedures, reduction of overlapping and duplicate programs, and the development of coordination among sectors. The invited speakers presented examples of multiple, often duplicative accreditation required by organizations in government and the private sector that results in the loss of time, money, and domestic and international acceptance of accreditation.
The keynote addresses included a historical review of prior efforts to streamline the laboratory accreditation infrastructure; an overview of how failure to accept competent testing by accredited laboratories affects commercial trade relations (especially when the lack of common procedures and mutual recognition agreements limits the free trade of products designed for acceptance in overseas markets); and a description of the procedures followed by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service and the European cooperation on Accreditation of Laboratories, known as EAL.
In addition to the vision statement put forth by the LAWG steering group to provide a philosophy for developing broad cooperation on accreditation procedures and infrastructure that would be much more effective than the present chaotic system and which would meet the needs of all those affected by laboratory accreditation, a set of principles was offered as a guide for developing a possible infrastructure. The principles include recognition of qualified, competent organizations that accredit laboratories, the use of procedures and requirements based on international standards and guides, elimination of domestic barriers, and improved access to foreign markets for U.S. products.
Single copies of the report, Proceedings of the Open Forum on Laboratory Accreditation, NIST Special Publication 902, are available from the Office of Standards Services, Room 282 Building 820, NIST, Gaithersburg, Md. 20899-0001, (301) 975-4000, fax: (301) 963-2871, e-mail: jbaker [at] nist.gov (jbaker[at]nist[dot]gov).
As a non-regulatory agency of the Commerce Department's Technology Administration, NIST promotes U.S. economic growth by working with industry to develop and apply technology, measurements and standards.