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Present Status of the US Conformity Assessment System

Those knowledgeable of the U.S. conformity assessment system for electrical products, knows that it continues to evolve in a decentralized manner, resulting in an extensive and increasingly complex system. Regulatory authority at the national level is split between agencies and regulatory commissions.  The Federal agencies which regulate electrical products are OSHA, MSHA, USCG, MMS, EPA, FDA and DOE.  The independent regulatory commissions are FCC and CPSC.  The organizational fragmentation makes it difficult for anyone in the executive branch to coordinate regulatory decisions across agencies or to change patterns of incremental policy development in any one agency.

 Federalism further complicates the US regulatory landscape. That is because the Tenth Amendment states that all powers not formally delegated in the Constitution to Federal authorities shall be reserved to the states.  Thus the regulation of construction codes and to a lesser extent, workplace safety, is largely left in the hands of state regulatory, city and county authorities.  The process of product regulation is further complicated by the US legal system and vigorous trial bar which encourages plaintiffs to sue manufacturers for injuries caused by product defects.  Product liability insurers have strong incentives to reduce tort claims by mandating the application of product safety standards as a condition for insurance coverage.  The overall effect has propelled conformity assessment into an industry with revenues in the billions.  It is thought that a majority of those revenues are derived from private industry. 

 Major changes in regulatory policy will likely require the passage of new legislation to change the scope and process of agency decision making.  Until then, the complexity of the US system and lack of coherence will continue creating problems for international trade and likely hamper further trade liberalization.   

Posted 08-02-2010 8:25 PM by Solis, Joel

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