agencies should determine compliance with product regulations and procurement standards under their jurisdiction. The deadline of the year 2000 for a phase out of direct government-operated conformity assessment activities should allow the necessary time for NIST to provide assurances of private-sector entities to take on these responsibilities. This is, in fact, already under way in several areas.

Two current programs serve as precedents for the recognition function recommended here. The first is NIST's responsibility under the Fastener Quality Act (P.L. 101-592) to ensure the competence of laboratories that test fasteners. NIST is charged by the act not only with accrediting testing laboratories directly, but also with evaluating and recognizing accreditors.4 A second program that might serve, in part, as an example for NCASR is the National Voluntary Conformity Assessment System Evaluation (NVCASE) program, established by NIST in 1994. NVCASE is designed to evaluate and formally recognize U.S. accreditors of laboratories, certifiers, and quality system registrars in a broad range of product sectors. NVCASE is a voluntary program, and it is applicable only to assessment of U.S. exported goods against foreign regulations. The NCASR program, in contrast, should apply to all conformity assessment activities for compliance with domestic regulatory and procurement standards.

Inefficiency in the U.S. conformity assessment system is especially apparent at the state and local levels. There have been only extremely limited national efforts, however, to promote mutual acceptance by state and local authorities of product testing results, certifications, and laboratory accreditations. In order to reduce redundancy and inefficiency at the state and local levels of the U.S. conformity assessment system, the following is recommended:

  • RECOMMENDATION 2: NIST should develop, within one year, a ten-year strategic plan to eliminate duplication in state and local criteria for accrediting testing laboratories and product certifiers. NIST should lead efforts to build a network of mutual recognition agreements among federal, state, and local authorities.

    After 10 years, the Secretary of Commerce should work with federal regulatory agencies to eliminate remaining duplication through preemption of state and local conformity assessment regulation.

Eliminating duplication in state and local conformity assessment regulations does not involve elimination of all differences among federal, state, and local regulations. There are valid reasons for variations in some standards. It is appropriate, for example, that building codes are more stringent in California for earthquake protection and in Florida for resistance to hurricane-force winds. Competently performed testing and certification, however, should be accepted by all state and local authorities throughout the United States.

The details of a strategic plan to eliminate duplication should be developed

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