Although no similar study has been performed in the area of product testing, anecdotal evidence, consultation with a wide range of experts, and a review of federal and state accreditation programs support the conclusion that a similar level of inefficiency exists in that area. A precise estimate of the cost of inefficiency in U.S. state and local systems is outside the scope of this study. Available evidence and analysis, however, demonstrate the need for action to streamline the system of product testing.

At the federal level, government agencies should retain responsibility for oversight of critical regulatory and procurement standards in areas of preeminent public health, safety, environmental, and national security concerns. The assessment of product conformity to those standards, however, is essentially a technical function performed most efficiently and effectively by the private sector. Government should meet its responsibility for serving the public interest in an oversight capacity.

The federal role in conformity assessment should center on recognition of private-sector services. Government should evaluate and recognize private sector organizations that are competent to accredit testing laboratories, product certifiers, and quality system registrars.3 In order to streamline and improve national conformity assessment procedures, the following is recommended:

  • RECOMMENDATION 1: Congress should provide the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) with a statutory mandate to implement a government-wide policy of phasing out federally operated conformity assessment activities.

    NIST should develop and implement a National Conformity Assessment System Recognition (NCASR) program. This program should recognize accreditors of (a) testing laboratories, (b) product certifiers, and (c) quality system registrars. By the year 2000, the government should rely on private-sector conformity assessment services recognized as competent by NIST.

A properly implemented NCASR program will reduce costs for federal agencies by eliminating the need to design and operate government-unique and duplicative testing, certification, and accreditation programs. It will decrease costs for industry of complying with separate, duplicative private and public conformity assessment requirements. The program will draw on NIST's expertise in testing and evaluation, as well as its in-house scientific and technical resources. It will also incorporate, under NIST guidance, participation of technical experts from regulatory and procurement agencies. These agencies will continue to be responsible for determining guidelines for essential standards of safety, health, environmental protection, and fitness for public procurement against which products are assessed. A congressional mandate for NIST should state explicitly, however, that reliance on NIST-recognized accreditation programs is the means by which

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