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INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS AND STANDARDS 38 5 International Organizations and Standards International organizations in engineering and science should help provide flexible structures for information exchange, the planning and operation of cooperative research programs, and the harmonization of standards and regulations. In pursuit of these objectives, multinational arrangements may be both necessary and efficient from the point of view of the United States and other countries. Several intergovernmental organizations, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), are well established and productive in particular fields of engineering and technology. Generally, the intergovernmental organizations are established to provide a meeting ground for experts from governmental departments or ministries charged with a given mission, for example, promoting air traffic safety or peaceful uses of atomic energy. In addition to these specialized international agencies, several multipurpose intergovernmental organizations have sectors concerned with engineering and technology. These organizations include the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).22 OECD, for example, has a Directorate for Science, Technology, and Industry, which has been concerned with common policies for information on technologies, computers, and communications. NATO's Scientific Affairs Division conducts programs of research fellowships, advanced study institutes and research workshops, and collaborative research grants. International nongovernmental engineering organizations are a more diverse and extensive mechanism for interaction among engineers than is generally realized. Through periodic congresses and conferences, technical
INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS AND STANDARDS 39 committee meetings, and international journals, multinational engineering groups have provided worldwide communication links on engineering problems and advances for many years. The organizations, structured around a region, a discipline, or a specific engineering objective provide numerous opportunities for information exchange among engineers and for the development of long-term personal associations. In many cases, international technical associations are not open to direct membership by individuals, but rather are âunionsâ or âfederationsâ operating through a nongovernmental national member organization that represents the professional community in each country with interests in the objectives of the international group. In turn, some of the adhering national organizations, such as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers or the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, may have individual members from several countries. And some professional societies, like the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers or the Society of Petroleum Engineers, though predominantly American, draw membership heavily from outside the United States and maintain a worldwide framework for their activities. There are few, if any, international engineering and technology organizations in which U.S. engineering interests are not represented. The view is sometimes expressed that the engineering community suffers disadvantages because of the lack of an overarching international nongovernmental organizational structure comparable to that of the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) in the scientific community. This view is encountered during discussions of initiatives for global research programs, such as the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program being developed by ICSU; the International Space Year currently under ICSU consideration; and the proposed International Decade of Hazard Reduction. Indeed, in seeking an organization to act as an initiator or as a partner in the planning and coordination of needed engineering developments, weaknesses are apparent in the international institutional infrastructure of engineering. There are, however, two broadly based nongovernmental international unions of engineering groups, the World Federation of Engineering Organizations (WFEO) and the Union of International Technical Associations (UITA). Appendix B summarizes the structure of these two organizations, as well as the structure of ICSU and the Council of Academies of Engineering and Technological Sciences. The factor often most cited for the apparent lag in international institutional development in engineering is the nature of the technical cooperation, which often raises proprietary and national security concerns. Although barriers inherent in engineering hinder development of the kind of strong tradition of international, multilateral cooperation that exists in the scientific community, in the committee's view these barriers are not insurmountable, as evidenced by the useful work of the many international engineering organizations that exist today. Moreover, global issues such as those addressed in the programs of ICSU increasingly demand coordinated participation by the engineering community, as these issues often arise at the interface of
INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS AND STANDARDS 40 science and technology. The Geosphere-Biosphere program, for example, is built in large part on assumptions about future industrial practice in energy, transport, and manufacturing, and its implementation will surely involve important elements of instrumentation, computers, telecommunications, data base management, and other technological specialties. The committee does not propose establishment of any new international, nongovernmental, technical organization. Such an organization may develop as a result of the engineering needs of major international research projects now being considered. It is the latter needs that must be considered paramount in institutional design or modification. The committee recommends that the National Science Foundation, the Department of State, and other concerned agencies sponsor a workshop to review U.S. participation in international engineering organizations to improve understanding of what such organizations do now and could do better, and to provide guidance as to which of such organizations merit continuing U.S. government support. A useful basis for such a meeting would be a comprehensive examination of the present range of international engineering activities in the United States in both the governmental and the nongovernmental sectors. Among topics that might be considered at the workshop are U.S. participation in WFEO and UITA; the desirability of a closer union of WFEO and UITA activities; roles for the Council of Academies of Engineering and Technological Sciences; ICSU needs and plans with regard to engineering, with emphasis on major projects now in planning; and resources for U.S. participation in international nongovernmental engineering organizations. In conclusion, the committee believes that a continuing, coherent view of institutional needs and performance would serve the longer-term interests of the engineering community. The National Science Foundation should support periodic assessment of the adequacy of the international infrastructure for cooperation in engineering, as well as the domestic structure needed to support U.S. participation in international engineering organizations. STANDARDS The word âstandardsâ includes both governmental standards, such as regulations on safety and pollutant emissions of processes, and commercial standards that cover a variety of agreements among market participants on how products are to be made and used. Commercial standards are a basic lubricant of economic activity. Without standards, the difficulties and costs of doing business increase significantly, and inconveniences to consumers grow. Though the issue of international standards recently has come increasingly to the fore through the telecommunications industry, standardization and associated problems are not unique to physical networks such as phone systems. Standardization of sizes of nuts and bolts, speeds for audio recording and playback, and acceptable machinery noise levels all represent agreement among producers and between producers and consumers that there
INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS AND STANDARDS 41 are profound advantages to uniformity or consistency on certain parameters of production and use. Standards are essential to the development of engineering practice and the widespread adoption of technologies. Indeed, standards may be viewed as one of the most practical and necessary forms of cooperation in engineering and technology. As commerce becomes more global, both industrial concerns and government agencies are confronted with the necessity of developing and conforming to international global technical standards. Agreement among domestic producers and consumers is no longer a sufficient condition for a globally effective standard. Indeed, give and take in international technical standards is increasingly recognized as a competitive arena for both companies and nations as international standards include agreement on â¢ units of measurement; â¢ terminology and symbolic representation; â¢ products and processes (definition and selection of characteristics of products, testing and measuring methods, specification of products for defining their quality and performance, regulation of variety, interchangeability, etc.); â¢ safety of persons and goods; â¢ environmental impacts; and â¢ validation of engineering data. Appendix C presents information about the current system of international standards and U.S. participation in it. From the perspective of U.S. industry and government, there are two important aspects to international standards. First, the standard-setting process is a window on foreign commercial technology. In most cases, standards for a product, measurement technique, or process follow development of the corresponding technology. Nonetheless, participation in the international standard-setting process provides U.S. industry with information on the intentions and strengths of non-U.S. companies. The standard-setting process can be a method of gaining information about foreign technical developments and about what product characteristics are likely to dominate in global markets. Though some U.S. firms have been active in this mannerâautomotive, agricultural, and computer companies, for exampleâincreased participation would be in the best interest of the United States. There are strong reasons for U.S. firms to engage in international standards activities as part of a global strategy for development and marketing of any technologically advanced (or advancing) product or service. The second, and perhaps more important, way in which standards affect U.S. commercial interests is through issues of market access. For many countries international standards are the basis for national technical regulations and thereby determine product acceptance in specific markets. The ability of U.S. industry to sell in the global marketplace depends at least in part on the compatibility of U.S. products with physical networks and service systems in other countries. Examples of technical standards that
INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS AND STANDARDS 42 are barriers to market access include the different standards for television receivers in the United States and Europe; container equipment standards for marine transport; and standards for telecommunications and equipment services. The lack of widespread adoption of the metric system in the United States has further complicated the U.S. position. Effective participation by U.S. industry and government in the development of international standards could lead to lower product costs, help stabilize current technology applications, permit new technologies to be introduced, and encourage dissemination of information related to new technologies. Although such participation will not necessarily yield significant competitive advantage, lack of participation can result in competitive disadvantages. The present system of U.S. participation in international standards setting, though effective in some technical areas, may not be adequate at the new levels of international commerce. The expense of foreign travel required for participation is accepted only reluctantly by many industrial managers who have inadequate appreciation of the benefit of participation. Although both U.S.industry and U.S. government are closely involved with international standards setting, at present there is no integrated or focused plan for U.S. participation in international standardization activities. There is an opportunity for the United States to increase the coherence and level of activity in this important arena that has a direct influence on the competitiveness of U.S. industry in world markets. Because of the importance of U.S. participation in the development of international standards, the committee recommends that the Office of the Special Trade Representative, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Commerce sponsor in- depth studies of the needs for, and benefits from, more assertive and better coordinated U.S. participation in international standards development. These studies should be conducted by a technically expert group broadly representative of industrial management, professional societies, universities, and concerned governmental agencies. Issues to be addressed in the study include â¢ Definition of U.S. Policy Toward International Standards. Are there needs for broad policy statements to guide U.S. adherence to, formulation of, and participation in international standards? If so, how should a policy be developed? â¢ Authority to Represent the United States in International Standards Activities. What type(s) of organization (existing or new, private or governmental) should represent the United States in international standards organizations, and what should be the extent of their authority? â¢ Funding of Participation. The adequacy and allocation of funding need to be assessed. Funding for U.S. participation in international standards development is used for several purposes: â¢ to support travel by U.S. specialists to meetings of international standards bodies;
INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS AND STANDARDS 43 â¢ to provide funds for the operation of international standards secretariats held by the United States; and â¢ to provide dues for U.S. membership in international standards organizations. â¢ Assessment of Impact of Standards on Competitiveness of U.S. Products. The influence of current and prospective international standards on the competitiveness of American products in world markets is an important aspect of the proposed study. The need for a mechanism to provide timely assessment of this impact of standards should be considered.
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