The National Institute of Standards and Technology, an agency of the Commerce Department's Technology Administration, and the National Cooperation for Laboratory Accreditation are proposing a partnership to achieve a broadly recognized laboratory accreditation system in the United States, thereby simplifying processes for demonstrating that products comply with domestic and foreign requirements.
In a notice published in the May 19 Federal Register, NIST and NACLA, a non-profit corporation founded to recognize U.S. accrediting bodies, said they plan to sign a memorandum of understanding that will enable the two organizations "to reduce redundancy and complexity" in the often puzzling and duplicative realm of laboratory accreditation.
Laboratory accreditation is a form of conformity assessment-activities to assure that products, processes or systems comply with regulations or voluntary standards. Such activities include tests of components and accreditation methods for assessing the proficiency of testing laboratories. They also include procedures for evaluating the competency of laboratory accreditors, which is the focus of the proposed NIST-NACLA agreement.
NIST and NACLA representatives will describe the details of the MOU at a public workshop on Friday, June 23, 2000, from 10 a.m. to noon. The workshop will be held at NIST's Gaithersburg, Md., headquarters. (See the NIST web site at www.ts.nist.gov for details. A copy of the draft MOU will be posted on June 1, 2000.) Written public comments should be sent to "NACLA Comments," Office of the Director, Technology Services, NIST, 100 Bureau Drive, Stop 2000, Gaithersburg, Md. 20899-2000.
In the United States, there are an estimated 50,000 testing laboratories and more than 100 laboratory accreditation programs, nearly all of them in the private sector. Although it has effectively addressed safety and consumer-protection needs, this decentralized conformity assessment system is sometimes criticized as inefficient.
Many testing laboratories, for example, undergo multiple accreditation audits to satisfy various government and industrial programs, even though their requirements and scopes of accreditation are similar. In addition, federal agencies differ greatly in their approaches to assessing whether products or services meet their procurement or regulatory requirements.
Trade agreements introduce yet another variable. Under several, including the U.S.-European Union Mutual Recognition Agreement, which went into effect in December 1998, NIST is responsible for designating U.S. testing laboratories, product certifiers and other conformity assessment bodies to carry out MRA activities.
"We believe that a coordinated system for evaluating accrediting bodies will produce very important benefits for both government and business," says Richard Kayser, director of NIST's Technology Services. "It should ease the burden of proving compliance with federal, state and local government procurement and regulatory requirements."
Donald N. Heirman, president of NACLA and former manager of Lucent Technologies' Global Product Compliance Laboratory, says the proposed relationship with NIST will advance the goals that motivated several private and public sector organizations to create NACLA in the first place. NACLA was incorporated in 1998.
"Our members believe that a test or calibration should be performed only once and that the results should be accepted worldwide," explains Heirman. "To this end, we need a national infrastructure to recognize as competent accrediting bodies that adhere to internationally accepted performance standards for such bodies."
For NIST, the proposed relationship will help it promote greater government use of voluntary standards and reduce the complexity of federal, state and local conformity assessment requirements. These responsibilities were assigned to NIST in the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act of 1995.
It is anticipated that accrediting bodies that have been recognized by NACLA under the provisions of the MOU will be deemed competent by NIST to support trade agreement activities where NIST is a designating authority.
As a non-regulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce'sTechnology Administration, NIST strengthens the U.S. economy and improves the quality of life by working with industry to develop and apply technology, measurements and standards through four partnerships: the Measurement and Standards Laboratories, the Advanced Technology Program, the Manufacturing Extension Partnership and the Baldrige National Quality Program.
Additional Contact: Joe O'Neil, NACLA, (301) 975-8406