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Scott M. Paton

Robert H. King Jr. is president and chief executive officer of the Registrar Accreditation Board in Milwaukee. RAB operates accreditation programs for ISO 9000 and ISO 14000 registrars through the ANSI-RAB National Accreditation Program. Independently, RAB operates certification programs for quality and environmental management systems auditors and accreditation programs for auditor training course providers. King is responsible for enhancing the strength of existing RAB programs and for responding as markets demand expansion into new areas. His duties include overall general management with a marketing emphasis and international focus.

 

RAB at a Glance

The Registrar Accreditation Board was established in 1989 by the American Society for Quality. Its original mission was to provide accreditation services for ISO 9000 quality management systems registrars. The new organization was structured as an independent legal entity. RAB is governed and operated independently from ASQ.

When RAB was created, it immediately sought to strengthen the U.S. system for registrar accreditation by pursuing a formal relationship with the American National Standards Institute. In 1991, ANSI and RAB joined forces to establish the American National Accreditation Program for Registrars of Quality Systems.

The next year RAB introduced QMS course provider accreditation and auditor certification programs that were separate from the joint program with ANSI. Then in 1996, with the release of new ISO 14000 environmental management systems (EMS) standards, the ANSI-RAB National Accreditation Program (NAP) was formed, replacing the original joint program.

The ANSI-RAB NAP covers the accreditation of QMS and EMS registrars. Separate from the ANSI-RAB NAP are certification programs for EMS auditors and QMS auditors and accreditation programs for course providers offering QMS and EMS auditor training courses operated solely by RAB.

RAB, headquartered in Milwaukee, is a not-for-profit organization that is financially self-supported and governed by a 16-member board of directors. Members of the board represent both quality and environmental stakeholders, including technical experts, business executives, industry representatives, and employees of registrar organizations.

RAB policy is established by the RAB board of directors and, for those programs operated with ANSI, by a joint oversight board populated equally by representatives of each organization.

For more information about RAB, visit www.rabnet.org.

Before joining RAB in January 2002, King was vice president, Supply Chain NAFTA, with Bayer Corp. He joined Bayer in 1985 and progressed to become a market manager, national sales director and then vice president with the company. Prior to joining Bayer, he was with Dow Chemical. King served as a captain in military intelligence in the U.S. Army. He earned a bachelor's degree in international studies from the University of South Carolina.

QD: What is your personal mission as president of RAB?

King: The only thing I have to sell is integrity. My mission is to uphold the integrity of the accreditation and registration processes and ensure there's a balanced ethical approach to the business.

QD: Have there been problems in that area?

King: This is an ongoing mission. Recently there's been increased scrutiny on auditor independence, brought out first in the financial industry. The broad brush really gets all auditors, so we're looking hard at auditor independence and trying to ensure there's not even a suspicion of impropriety. You can be squeaky clean, but if someone thinks you're not, you can have a big problem.

QD: Only 13 percent of ISO 9000-registered companies in North America have made the transition to ISO 9001:2000. Why do you think companies have been so slow to make the transition?

King: First, there's really a new process with ISO 9001:2000. When companies really started to dig into this, they realized they'd have to make some changes. I don't believe they realized that immediately because the last transition to the 1994 standard was simpler. But ISO 9001:2000 requires more work to be done up front by the client. Second, there was a three-year transition period, and I think there was a lot of procrastinating. There's certainly been a lot of effort put forward by the registrars to promote the change, and many are working this into their surveillance audits.

QD: Some critics of ISO 9000 say that the low transition numbers are due to the standard not being an effective system. Is this a valid criticism?

King: I don't think there's any validity to that. The IAAR [International Association of Accredited Registrars] says that the small and medium-sized registrars are going to be complete by December. The larger registrars are going to be a little slower and will probably have some customers that won't finish.

QD: So you don't believe there's going to be any dropout in the number of registered companies at the December deadline?

King: There'll be some companies that have to fade into the first quarter of next year to complete the transition, but I don't believe there's going to be a significant number of companies that give up on the standard altogether.

QD: What happens to companies that do let their registration lapse and then find they want it again?

King: From RAB's perspective, they would have to start over again. There may be some registrars out there that would help them along if they've been a long-standing customer, but that would be a business decision for the registrar.

QD: It's been said accreditation bodies haven't been as diligent as they could have been with some of the registrars that have a reputation for rubber-stamping registrations. How do you answer that charge, and do you believe the ISO 9000 process has been hurt as a result?

King: It's difficult for any accreditation body to provide 100-percent oversight. We can't look at every customer; there are just too many of them. When we do have a complaint, we investigate it rigorously. We don't let any complaint slide. If someone were to come to me with a complaint that there was a rubber-stamp certificate out there, we would investigate and call that registrar to task on it. We do a lot of suspensions; in fact, we have one withdrawal out there right now. We are tough on our registrars when we have objective evidence to go on. Gathering that objective evidence is sometimes difficult.

I think the ISO 9000 standard could have been hurt by that sort of allegation. It's always easy to tear down a system when you're on the outside looking in, and there may be some of that going on, too. But I think, all-in-all, it's our responsibility as an accreditation body working with the registrars to make sure that doesn't happen.

QD: Some registrars have complained that they don't receive enough support from ANSI-RAB and ASQ in promoting the transition. Could ANSI-RAB have done more to promote the transition process?

King: We have four communication themes this year. One of them is the transition process. We also promoted it through our auditor certification process. We were pretty hard on our auditors to make sure they got the training necessary to provide good transition auditing. ASQ's theme for its national conference is the ISO 9000 transition process. We are promoting it as best we can. It's been on our Web site and in our newsletter. If these registrars have constructive criticism, I would appreciate it, but I don't know what else we could have done. Early last year we sent out a letter to the registrars asking for their help and offering ours in whatever way they wanted us to help in the transition. We continue to promote it through our auditor certification process and in public forums.

QD: ISO 14001 seems to be much more popular outside the United States. Why do you think it's been adopted more quickly outside the country than it has been here?

King: I don't know, but if you take the growth curve of ISO 9000 in the early years and lay it down over the growth curve of ISO 14001, ISO 14001 had a steeper growth in the United States than ISO 9000 did. It's leveled off in the past year or two, but in the first five or so years of the standard, ISO 14001 actually grew at a faster rate.

QD: What do you think the future holds for standards, such as ISO 9001 and ISO 14001, and where does ANSI-RAB fit into the picture of opportunities for other standards?

King: ANSI-RAB will always look at consensus standards, ISO standards or national standards for program or assessment. We won't look at any documents that aren't consensus standards. For example, if there is a new standard for medical devices, which there is right now, we'll be issuing conformity assessment audits against ISO 13485. If there is ever a national or international standard for occupational health and safety, we will take that into consideration as part of our business plan. We don't go out and promote standards for conformity assessment in order to gain business.

The first part of your question is a little more difficult. I believe we're going to see a resurgence of interest in ISO 9001 when people really understand what that standard can do for them when it's properly applied within their business.

Letters to the editor about this interview can be sent to letters@qualitydigest.com.