Standards Intersect Policy, Trade, and Outreach
Q. What is the focus of ASTM’s Washington, D.C., office?
A. The Washington office works at the intersection of policy, trade, and outreach. Our team — Craig Updyke, Matt Pezzella, and myself — track what the White House, Congress, and federal agencies are doing in relation to what ASTM does and can help with.
We work closely with other staff and committee members so that we can connect and share information about our standards initiatives, our programs and trainings, and our Centers of Excellence — positioning ASTM and our capabilities as a partner or resource to help meet the needs both of today and of the future. Similarly, Washington is a hub for trade associations, standards organizations, think tanks, and environmental and consumer groups. So we are always looking for ways to provide information to them while learning about their priorities and needs. That insight and engagement can be very valuable to our committees.
With the new Biden Administration in office, there will be a review of U.S. federal standards policy, including OMB A-119, which directs agencies to use voluntary consensus standards where possible and for agency representatives to engage in standards development. [That’s the U.S. Office of Management and Budget Circular A-119, Federal Participation in the Development and Use of Voluntary Consensus Standards and in Conformity Assessment Activities.]
We look forward to that review and to furthering the ongoing public-private collaboration in voluntary consensus standards that has proven so effective at meeting current and emerging needs. And we welcome additional U.S. federal agency representative participation in addition to the 1,500 or so who already engage in 93% of our existing subcommittees that develop and revise ASTM standards.
As an example, think of the new barrier face covering standard (F3502) that was approved in February. Government representatives from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the Food and Drug Administration worked closely with the manufacturers, suppliers, and test labs represented in our committee on personal protective clothing and equipment (F23) on the standard. They worked together to reflect the experience and knowledge we have all gained from wearing masks in public over the last year and specified new requirements for fit, comfort, filtration, and breathability. This is an extremely valuable standard and resource to help inform guidance as employees begin to return to their workplace and much of society resumes some degree of normalcy. We are providing no-cost public access to F3502 on our website, and that’s in addition to the more than two dozen other ASTM standards that ASTM has already made available to help reduce virus spread.
Other ASTM International industry areas track alongside U.S. government initiatives related to climate change, infrastructure and transportation, trade, innovation, and technology.
READ MORE: What the USMCA Means for SDOs
Q. How do you see ASTM International standards advancing support for international trade and trade agreements under the Biden Administration?
A. The Biden Administration has placed a high priority on re-engagement with allies and, in the case of the European Union, on trying to resolve a series of trade disputes, some of which have been around for quite a while. We’re enthusiastic about the potential for greater coordination and collaboration between the United States and key trading partners and international institutions, including the European Commission and Japan.
ASTM continues to stand ready to collaborate in the world standards community to connect and better serve our global stakeholders. We look forward to furthering connections in the European Union, for example, with the European Commission and organizations such as EASA [European Union Aviation Safety Agency], as well as ICAO, NATO, WHO [International Civil Aviation Organization, North American Treaty Organization, World Health Organization], and the World Bank/International Finance Group. We have nearly 2,000 members in Europe and an office in Brussels, and together we can partner on standards-related cooperation initiatives that can bridge gaps — especially as we look to new opportunities in the future.
The Biden Administration is also placing a high priority on implementing and enforcing the USMCA [U.S.-Mexico-Canada] Agreement, which replaced NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement] in July 2020. By the letter and spirit of the agreement, the three governments have committed to multiple paths to recognition as an international standards developer, none of which has anything to do with where the organization is domiciled. It has to do with technical quality and market relevance in an open process. Bringing to life and full implementation of these commitments will drive regulatory convergence and further ensure that there are no barriers to the acceptance and use of ASTM standards in fulfilling regulatory and trade requirements in North America.
The new U.S. trade representative, Ambassador Katherine Tai, is also evaluating progress made under the previous administration in free-trade agreement negotiations with Kenya and the United Kingdom [U.K.].
The Kenya Bureau of Standards is an ASTM memorandum of understanding partner, and a free-trade agreement there could build that connection and help unlock the possibility of greater collaboration. And now that the U.K. has finished the “Brexit” process and is exiting the European trade and regulatory infrastructure, ASTM is examining new possibilities there. We have opportunities to better serve our U.K. members actively engaged in ASTM to meet their global business objectives.
Q. What update can you provide about the International Organizations (IO) Partnership and ASTM’s participation in it?
A. ASTM International signed on to the IO Partnership in 2018. Begun by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development [OECD], the IO Partnership supports governments with information about best practices for regulatory systems to help them function more smoothly and efficiently. The partnership includes some 50 groups, including governments, private sector organizations, civil society groups, and academia.
Building on ASTM’s participation in the IO Partnership, OECD is conducting a case study examining ASTM’s open and effective standards-setting process and how standards are developed that can be used by any group that needs them, including national and international regulatory authorities. The case study will show that our business is collaboration and setting the table for collaboration on diverse technical topics. The study will also highlight that research to standards — which we do most notably in our Centers of Excellence — brings these communities together to move technologies forward and commercialize them. Standards are needed to get products into the marketplace and create consumer confidence.
ASTM’s work in additive manufacturing will be highlighted, as will sustainable construction, sustainable aviation fuel, and PPE [personal protective equipment]. The study reaffirms that ASTM is open to all and meets the needs of the world when it develops international standards and provides confidence in the marketplace. Look for more about the study this fall.
Q. The Biden Administration is emphasizing climate-related issues. What has been happening on this front?
A. President Biden has placed high significance on climate change and has positioned it at the center of environment, labor, and trade policy. Climate change is even viewed as a national security issue, which comes under the purview of the National Security Council. And It’s also a technology and innovation issue as it involves new energy sources, feedstocks, processes, and materials. Finally, the appointment of Ambassador John Kerry as special envoy for climate change, the United States’ rejoining the Paris Agreement [The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC], and other actions signal the importance placed by the Biden administration on global leadership in addressing this challenge.
The Washington office is working to get the word out to our committees that climate-related issues are a high priority coming out of this global pandemic. We hope to build on the relevant body of work our committees have completed in this area.
The committee on environmental assessment, risk management, and corrective action (E50) has already done terrific work helping companies, manufacturers, and organizations in reporting, as well as in other climate-related areas. The committee has also formed a new subcommittee on climate and community that will make an impact in this area.
In addition, the committee on industrial biotechnology (E62) has begun work on an important new standard for carbon-intensity scoring to help consumers make purchasing decisions based on biobased content of products.
And there’s the ongoing work in the committee on petroleum products, liquid fuels, and lubricants (D02) related to cleaner fuels and the committee on plastics (D20) for recycling. These are just a
Related to climate issues is the need for infrastructure resiliency, an area where ASTM has long been active. The proposed U.S. infrastructure plan takes in more than roads and bridges; it includes coastal waterways, ports of entry, coastal ports, and airports. The administration wants to build to the highest possible environmental and resiliency standards.
Alongside this plan, we want to be sure that committees take stock and ensure we consider the parameters needed for longer lasting, better performing infrastructure, whether that’s roads, materials in bridges, or materials in intermodal transportation. We’re doing that work today.
Q. It sounds as if innovation and new technologies will be critical to this agenda. How do you see ASTM supporting these areas?
A. What we’re known for is bringing new approaches, innovation, and technology to existing materials that are used, as well as introducing new materials and processes. We’ve already touched on additive manufacturing, and we have committees operating on other cutting-edge technologies such as exoskeletons.
As another example, the U.S. Department of Energy wants to improve the electrical conductivity of materials and has an initiative funding research to support the development of alternative materials. This would include some copper, some aluminum, but also new materials to try and meet requirements for better conductivity and thereby efficiency. This work will drive the development of new standards related to greater efficiency, lower emissions, and meet commitments regarding climate. We already have members engaged who can do the work if given the chance to do so.
The administration’s push in new areas also includes electric vehicles and planning for decades in the future. Through our committees on driverless automatic guided industrial vehicles (F45) and unmanned aircraft systems (F38), we have relevant work both completed and underway to build on.
Q. In what other areas are ASTM standards having an impact — now or in the future?
A. The day after his inauguration, President Biden signed, among others, an Executive Order on Protecting Worker Health and Safety. The order intends to reduce the risk of workers contracting COVID-19 in the workplace.
This takes us back to the important work that our committees have done for PPE. As we go back to the workplace, we’ll be able to take advantage of a greater variety of PPE products supported by ASTM standards. The latest is the barrier face covering standard (F3502) from the F23 committee. The standard has already been recognized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in a guidance document, and it will be valuable in helping people going back to work.
On the consumer front, we have long been a trusted partner of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in its efforts to ensure the integrity and safety of consumer products. We expect this administration to renew its focus on consumers and consumer safety and turn to voluntary consensus standards that increase consumer confidence.
Given the role we play in collaborating with labs, consumers, manufacturers, and others in our open and transparent process, we welcome this renewed focus.
We have the right stakeholders, the right process, and the right commitment to respond to societal needs in helping our world work better. ■