by NIST since 1976.67 NVLAP accredits testing laboratory competence in a range of fields of testing. These include, among others, testing and analysis of asbestos fibers; construction materials; lighting, insulation, and paint products; carpeting; electromagnetic interference; measuring device calibration; personal radiation dosimetry; computer software compatibility; and fasteners. Accreditation fees vary by field, with an initial application fee ranging from $500 to $1,500; annual administrative and technical support fees from $2,600 to $5,600; and fees for on-site assessment of $1,500 to $2,300.68 The 1994 NVLAP directory lists 670 accredited laboratories. The largest areas of accreditation, by number of laboratories, is asbestos analysis. Although NVLAP accreditation is voluntary in most fields, federal asbestos regulations, for example, require testing by a NVLAP-accredited laboratory.
The largest private-sector accrediting organization is the American Association for Laboratory Accreditation (A2LA). Established in 1986, A2LA accredited 603 laboratories as of January 31, 1994.69 Mechanical, chemical, environmental, and construction materials are the predominant testing fields accredited by A2LA. Like NVLAP, A2LA accredits according to guidelines developed by the ISO Council Committee on Conformity Assessment for competence of testing laboratories. Accreditation fees charged by A2LA are typically somewhat lower than those of NVLAP, starting at $1,000 for a single field of testing, plus expenses for on-site inspection of the laboratory by independent assessors.70
The decentralized and complex nature of the U.S. system has arisen in an uncoordinated fashion through case-by-case response to specific demands such as those described above.71 As a result, many of the programs listed in Tables 3-2 through 3-4 overlap. This imposes an unnecessary burden on laboratories and certifiers, which must obtain multiple accreditations for each of their areas of competence. For example, a laboratory seeking nationwide acceptance to conduct electrical safety-related materials testing must gain accreditation from at least 43 states; more than 100 local jurisdictions; 3 independent building code organizations; several federal agencies, including OSHA and NVLAP; and several large manufacturers. All of these accreditations evaluate the same laboratory for the same area of competence. This redundancy imposes unnecessary, unjustifiable costs on laboratories and their customers.72
A General Accounting Office study in 1989 identified an area of significant overlap in laboratory accreditation programs operated by the federal government. Although NVLAP operates a program in the field of electromagnetic interference—measurement of interference emitted by electronic devices—the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) does not recognize NVLAP accreditation. Instead, FCC requires laboratories that test products for compliance to its regulations to obtain a redundant accreditation from FCC.73