What Are Consensus Standards

Because ASTM standards are developed voluntarily and used voluntarily, the basic principle in their development is that a rigorous due process procedure is followed, resulting in a full consensus of all concerned parties prior to approval and publication of the standard by ASTM. ASTM technical committees are dedicated to this consensus process because these standards are often adopted by regulatory agencies in government regulations or referred to in business contracts between client's and contractors. This use of ASTM standards goes beyond the voluntary use and becomes legally binding.

Governmental agencies encourage the use of consensus standards, as demonstrated on March 7, 1996, when President Clinton signed Public Law 104-113, Technology Transfer Improvements Act of 1995 (3). This new law codified the existing Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Circular A-119 titled Federal Participation in the Development and Use of Voluntary Standards. This law directs all federal agencies and departments to use technical standards developed or adopted by voluntary consensus standards organizations, such as ASTM, to carry out policy objectives or activities. These federal agencies and departments consult with voluntary, private sector, and consensus standards bodies, when possible within budgetary resources and priorities, they should also participate in the development of these technical standards.

Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) proposed this legislation (4) and stated that

Consensus standards are standards which are developed by voluntary, private sector, consensus standards bodies. These organizations are established explicitly for the purpose of developing such standards through a process having three characteristics. First, openness, defined as meaning that participation in the standards development process shall be open to all persons who are directly and materially affected by the activity in question. Second, balance of interest, which means that the consensus body responsible for the development of a standard shall be comprised of representatives of all categories of interest that relate to the subject. For example, manufacturer, user, regulatory, insurance, inspection, employee and union interest. Third, due process, which means a procedure by which any individual or organization who believes that an action or inaction of a third party causes unreasonable hardship or potential harm is provided the opportunity to have a fair hearing of their concerns. In short, a legitimate consensus standards organization provides open process in which all par ties and experts have ample opportunity to participate in developing the consensus. Examples include traditional standards organizations such as the American Society for Testing and Materials.

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