Quality Standards Update

by Paul Scicchitano

God Bless America

There is a reason why freedom of the press
has been a cornerstone of
America's political architecture.

Thanks to a fiery Sicilian lawyer from Brooklyn, I'm once again proud to call myself a flag-waving American trade journalist.

Some months ago, as you may recall, I was thrown out of a meeting of about 150 standards writers in Durban, South Africa, while attempting to report on the next iteration of the popular ISO 9000 standards.

It proved to be an ugly event with ominous implications. I had breached the inner sanctum of a key subcommittee to International Organization for Standardization Technical Committee 176. I wasn't planning to use the information for the greater good of society, like many of the $1,500-a-day consultants in the room. I was planning to share it with industry-the very people affected by the standards.

The subcommittee makes key decisions that will shape future international quality assurance and management documents. The British chairman of the event apparently believed that the press had no right to cover these developments, that coverage wasn't in the best interest of the people they serve.

What could he have been thinking? Isn't this the mentality that has kept citizens down in communist countries?

After that fateful meeting, I learned that it was the leader of the U.S. delegation who brought my attendance to the attention of the subcommittee chairman-though he maintains that it was purely a point of information, not a complaint.

I had been invited to attend the week-long series of meetings as a guest of TC 176 Chairman Reginald Shaughnessy of Canada. Shaughnessy understands the value of getting the message out. But he is apparently in the minority when it comes to the international standards-writing organization.

Unfortunately, ISO recently decided to ban the media from all working sessions of the organization's many technical committees. This is where (I never thought I'd say this publicly) an American lawyer by the name of Joe Cascio restored my faith in the great American tradition of fighting injustice. Cascio heads the U.S. delegation to the ISO committee responsible for drafting the ISO 14000 series standards. The ISO ban on press attendance affects his committee as well.

Cascio had difficulty reconciling the exclusion of the press with ISO's stated desire to create voluntary standards for industry in an open process. But, instead of acquiescing to those who would operate behind closed doors, Cascio took another approach.

He named several journalists from the United States, including myself, to the roster of official U.S. delegates attending the technical committee's recent series of meetings in Brazil. This made it virtually impossible for ISO to draw a distinction between us and the many consultants who attend these meetings only to report on their activities in speeches and training courses.

Cascio pressed the issue publicly, asking some 400 delegates from more than 40 countries to take on ISO's tough stand against press attendance.

"Many times in previous TC 207 plenaries, we have expressed the need to spread the word on ISO 14000 to small and medium-sized enterprises, and to those in developing countries," went Cascio's plea. "We have acknowledged that consultants and registrars can be expensive sources of information, and beyond the reach of many in these audiences. We have not yet, as a technical committee, established the mechanisms to provide information to these interests, and yet we are now being instructed to ban from our midst those who have done much to assist TC 207 in its honorable goal-to make the ISO 14000 message accessible to all groups. How is this productive, and how will it help us to reach SMEs and organizations in developing countries?"

From the reaction, it was apparent that the notion of openness regarding the process had different meanings outside of the United States. When the dust settled, the ban was still in place.

I am curious to see if Cascio's courageous stand will at least serve as a precedent for future U.S. participation in ISO meetings, given the importance of ISO standards to American business.

There is a reason why freedom of the press has been a cornerstone of America's political architecture. It's not that our elected leaders wouldn't prefer to operate in a vacuum like these standards writers; they just understand that people tend to respond better to initiatives when they can see them coming instead of being blindsided by them.

Maybe ISO could take a lesson.

About the author

Paul Scicchitano is managing editor of Quality Systems Update, a monthly newsletter and information service devoted to ISO 9000 and ISO 14000 published by Irwin Professional Publishing, 11150 Main St., Suite 403, Fairfax, VA 22030; telephone (703) 591-9008; fax (703) 591-0971; e-mail isoeditor@ aol.com