of approximately 28 percent in national economic costs of accreditation would be highly significant if they could be replicated in the much larger sphere of product testing and certification. Accreditation costs and patterns of redundant accreditation requirements, of course, may vary considerably between environmental testing and the wide range of product testing fields. Nevertheless, the findings of the CNAEL study provide important guidance—particularly, in the absence of similar, detailed estimates for the product testing sphere.

Government Recognition of Accreditation Services

Recognition is the most recent layer to be added to the U.S. conformity assessment system. Recognition involves assessment of the competence of programs that accredit conformity assessment organizations, such as laboratories, certifiers, and quality system registrars.78 Government recognition has the effect of conferring official acceptance, for example, of testing and certification performed by any laboratory accredited by a government-recognized accreditor. By relying on competent, private accreditation services to evaluate testing laboratories, instead of performing those evaluations directly, government agencies can reduce costs while continuing to meet their need for confidence in the reliability of product testing data.

Recognition programs, as indicated in Table 1-1, are in an early stage of development. Two U.S. government programs, both operated by NIST, currently involve recognition-level activities. These are the National Voluntary Conformity Assessment System Evaluation (NVCASE) program and NIST conformity assessment activities mandated by Congress under the Fastener Quality Act (P.L. 101-592).

The NVCASE program was established by NIST in early 1994. Its goal is to provide for increased access of U.S. products to foreign markets. NVCASE provides a basis for the U.S. government to give assurance to foreign governments of the technical competence of U.S. conformity assessment organizations. This assurance is intended to encourage foreign government acceptance of conformity assessment services performed by U.S. organizations—such as product testing and certification—as meeting foreign regulatory requirements.79 In the absence of foreign government acceptance, U.S. products must be retested for conformity with product regulations in export markets, even when they have been tested and certified within the United States. Issues related to international acceptance of conformity assessment procedures are examined in detail in Chapter 4.

NVCASE is a voluntary program. U.S. conformity assessment organizations are not required to seek recognition. Once fully implemented, NVCASE will evaluate U.S. conformity assessment organizations at their request, on a fee-for-service basis, in accordance with internationally accepted standards for conformity

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