oversight

Product Safety Laboratories: OSHA's Accreditation Process Needs Reexamination

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2012-12-11.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                United States Government Accountability Office

GAO             Report to Congressional Requesters




                PRODUCT SAFETY
December 2012



                LABORATORIES

                OSHA’s Accreditation
                Process Needs
                Reexamination




GAO-13-88
                                           December 2012

                                           PRODUCT SAFETY LABORATORIES
                                           OSHA’s Accreditation Process Needs Reexamination

Highlights of GAO-13-88, a report to
congressional requesters




Why GAO Did This Study                     What GAO Found
American workers interact with many        The Department of Labor’s (Labor) Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s
types of products that could pose risks    (OSHA) process for accrediting Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratories (NRTL)
to their safety. The NRTL program,         is lengthy due to the scope of staff members’ responsibilities and unclear application
administered by OSHA, works to             procedures for accreditation. Among the 13 recently approved applications, OSHA
support employers and workers by           took between 1 and 5 years to make accreditation decisions. All of these applications
establishing a process for safety-         took much longer to approve than OSHA’s desired time frames, and in some cases,
testing certain equipment and other        years longer. In addition, 12 of the 29 applications that were awaiting final decisions
products for use in the U.S. workplace.    by OSHA as of June 2012 had been under review longer than the 5-year period for
Under this program, which is supported     which the accreditation decision would be valid. This lengthy process has potentially
by user fees, OSHA accredits third-        negative economic consequences for laboratories and requires OSHA staff to divert
party labs as NRTLs, which then            their time from other oversight activities. Two key factors led to the long time frames:
determine whether certain types of
products meet safety standards.            •   Imbalance between staffing levels and scope of responsibilities: The way
Because the availability of NRTLs is           that OSHA has designed the NRTL program requires its four staff members to
essential to ensuring that employers           balance many wide-ranging responsibilities. These responsibilities include:
have timely access to products that            reviewing all aspects of accreditation, auditing existing laboratories, and
meet safety standards, GAO was                 responding to information requests from other federal agencies. Consequently,
asked to examine (1) how long it takes         accreditation applications were sometimes set aside for significant amounts of
to make accreditation decisions and            time while OSHA personnel attended to their other responsibilities.
the key factors that affect timeliness,    •   Unclear application requirements: OSHA’s requirements for the content and
and (2) the extent to which OSHA has           level of detail to be provided in accreditation applications—such as detailed
adopted commonly used strategies for           information to assess independence—differ in important ways from international
improving timeliness. GAO reviewed             standards used for accrediting safety labs. Lack of clarity in guidance about
relevant documents and data from               these and other requirements create confusion among applicants and extend
OSHA; interviewed OSHA officials,              both the amount of time applicants spend preparing the applications and the time
other NRTL stakeholders, and officials         OSHA officials spend reviewing them. OSHA said its additional requirements are
from four federal agencies that                important to the agency’s mission, but it has not formally compared them to
administer accreditation programs for          current international standards or recently assessed the risks, costs, and benefits
other purposes; and reviewed                   of any procedures that deviate from international standards.
information on strategies for improving
timeliness from past GAO reports and       While OSHA plans to take some steps to improve timeliness, it has not taken
other sources.                             advantage of a range of promising strategies, including some that might address its
                                           resource constraints and improve efficiency. GAO identified three key strategies for
                                           improving timeliness: (1) aligning program design with program mission and
                                           resources; (2) providing clear guidance and timely communication to stakeholders;
What GAO Recommends                        and (3) developing performance measures and using data to identify inefficiencies.
GAO recommends that Labor review           GAO found that OSHA has not evaluated the NRTL accreditation process to assess
its current structure and procedures for   whether its current structure is the most efficient for processing and approving
accrediting NRTLs and implement            applications in a timely manner and meeting the program’s goals. Consequently,
alternatives that would maintain           OSHA’s processes may be slower than necessary and planned hiring may not
effectiveness while improving              adequately address timeliness issues. Since the NRTL program was created in 1988,
timeliness. Labor agreed with the          several new approaches to accreditation have been developed. For example, some
recommendations and described its          federal agencies have collaborated with outside entities to complete select tasks in
plans to address them.                     the accreditation process while continuing to make key oversight decisions in-house.
                                           The NRTL staff’s current workload has made it difficult for them to implement other
                                           timeliness strategies, such as providing timely communication to stakeholders. In
                                           addition, OSHA recently stopped using its NRTL performance measures because
View GAO-13-88. For more information,      officials believed that meeting them was impractical.
contact Revae Moran at (202) 512-7215
or moranr@gao.gov.

                                                                                      United States Government Accountability Office
Contents


Letter                                                                                     1
               Background                                                                   2
               Scope of Staff Responsibilities and Unclear Application Procedures
                  Lengthen the Accreditation Process                                      10
               Strategies for Improving Timeliness Exist, but OSHA has Taken
                  Limited Steps to Implement Them                                         22
               Conclusions                                                                31
               Recommendation for Executive Action                                        31

Appendix I     Objectives, Scope, and Methodology                                         34



Appendix II    Comments from the Department of Labor                                      38



Appendix III   GAO Contact and Staff Acknowledgments                                      40



Tables
               Table 1: Accreditation Processes Used by Selected Federal
                        Agencies, for Various Purposes                                      8
               Table 2: Actual vs. Desirable Processing Time Frames for
                        Applications Approved from June 11, 2007 to June 11, 2012         12


Figures
               Figure 1: Summary of OSHA’s Process for Initial, Expansion, and
                        Renewal NRTL Accreditation Decisions                                4
               Figure 2: Examples of NRTL Certification Marks                               6
               Figure 3: Duration of Application Processing Times for
                        Applications Approved from June 11, 2007 to June 11,
                        2012                                                              11
               Figure 4: Length of Time Pending Applications Had Been under
                        Review, as of June 11, 2012                                       13




               Page i                                   GAO-13-88 Product Testing Laboratories
Abbreviations

CPSC                       Consumer Product Safety Commission
FCC                        Federal Communications Commission
HHS                        Department of Health and Human Services
ISO                        International Organization for Standardization
NIST                       National Institute of Standards and Technology
NRTL                       Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory
ONC                        Office of the National Coordinator for Health
                           Information Technology
OSHA                       Occupational Safety and Health Administration
SNAP                       Satellite Notification and Acceptance Program




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Page ii                                            GAO-13-88 Product Testing Laboratories
United States Government Accountability Office
Washington, DC 20548




                                   December 11, 2012

                                   The Honorable Darrell Issa
                                   Chairman
                                   Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
                                   House of Representatives

                                   The Honorable John Kline
                                   Chairman
                                   Committee on Education and the Workforce
                                   House of Representatives

                                   American workers interact with many types of products that may pose
                                   risks to their safety on the job. Accordingly, the Department of Labor’s
                                   Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that
                                   certain types of safety equipment and other products be safety-tested and
                                   approved by a Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL) before
                                   employers may use them in the workplace. Currently, there are 15
                                   NRTLs. OSHA recognizes, or accredits, laboratories as NRTLs that have
                                   met the necessary qualifications and requirements specified in program
                                   regulations and agency guidance. In turn, NRTLs determine whether
                                   certain types of products—ranging from fire extinguishers to coffee
                                   makers to power transformers—meet appropriate safety standards. If
                                   approved by an NRTL, the products are accepted by OSHA for use in the
                                   workplace.

                                   Because the availability of such labs for product safety testing is essential
                                   to ensuring employers have timely access to products that meet safety
                                   standards, you asked that, within the context of OSHA meeting its
                                   mission, we examine (1) how long it takes to make accreditation
                                   decisions and the key factors that affect timeliness and (2) the extent to
                                   which OSHA has adopted commonly used strategies for improving
                                   timeliness.

                                   To address both research questions, we reviewed relevant federal laws,
                                   regulations, and OSHA publications on the NRTL program. We also
                                   interviewed key program stakeholders such as OSHA officials, eight
                                   NRTL program applicants, and select public and private organizations,
                                   including non-profits, that accredit safety labs for other programs or
                                   purposes. To determine how long it took OSHA to approve accreditation
                                   applications, we reviewed data from OSHA and analyzed time frames for
                                   applications approved between June 2007 and June 2012. We also


                                   Page 1                                     GAO-13-88 Product Testing Laboratories
               analyzed the length of time that applications for which OSHA had not
               made a final determination as of June 11, 2012, had been pending. After
               comparing the data to Federal Register notices, which identified key
               application dates, and through interviews with OSHA officials, we
               determined that the data provided by OSHA were sufficiently reliable for
               our purposes. To identify promising strategies for improving timeliness,
               we reviewed and synthesized findings from various sources, including
               GAO reports, international standards, guidance on accreditation, and
               materials from other organizations and federal agencies. We also
               interviewed officials from public and private accreditation programs and
               organizations, including consortiums of accreditation organizations, about
               their processes and practices to identify examples of promising strategies
               and learn how they have been implemented by others. We selected other
               accreditation programs and organizations to review based on
               recommendations from NRTL program stakeholders and gave priority to
               those accreditation programs that are similar to OSHA’s accreditation
               program in terms of mission or scope. While no other accreditation
               process is completely comparable to OSHA’s, the experiences of others
               provide illustrative examples of actions that federal agencies have taken
               to adapt the accreditation process to their own unique missions and
               circumstances. For more information about our sources and methods for
               identifying promising strategies for improving timeliness, see appendix I.

               We conducted this performance audit from April 2012 to December 2012
               in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.
               Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain
               sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our
               findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives. We believe that
               the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and
               conclusions based on our audit objectives.



Background
NRTL Program   As authorized by the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, OSHA
               issues and enforces workplace safety and health standards (OSHA
               standards). 1 Some OSHA standards require that certain products used in



               1
                   Pub. L. No. 91-596, 84 Stat. 1590, codified as amended at 29 U.S.C. §§ 553, 651-78.




               Page 2                                              GAO-13-88 Product Testing Laboratories
the workplace, such as a variety of electrical equipment, be safety-tested
and approved by OSHA-accredited laboratories. 2 To serve this purpose,
OSHA established the NRTL program by regulation in 1988. The program
is currently administered by four staff members and a director who was
hired in August 2012. The NRTL accreditation process is designed to
determine whether an organization has the capability and independence
to test and certify (“approve”) that products meet consensus-based safety
standards (test standards). 3 The main purpose of the NRTL accreditation
process is to ensure that these organizations are and remain qualified to
test and certify products used in the workplace. 4

OSHA makes three types of accreditation decisions, which are generally
valid for 5 years:

    1. Initial: Determinations about whether to accredit an organization
       as an NRTL for the first time.
    2. Expansion: Determinations about whether to expand the purview
       of an accredited NRTL to include other categories of products to
       be tested or to allow an accredited NRTL to conduct testing
       activities at additional sites. For example, an NRTL that is already
       accredited by OSHA to test electric clothes washing machines
       may apply to add additional test standards to its NRTL scope,
       such as standards for testing heat detectors for fire. The duration
       of expansion accreditations may be shorter than 5 years because


2
  In this report, we use the term “accredit” to mean the same as “recognize.” OSHA
officials told us that, while the program formally uses the term “recognize,” it is appropriate
to describe its process for recognizing third-party laboratories as an accreditation process.
In addition, we use the term “approved” to include a number of terms used in OSHA’s
standards, including “approved,” “certified,” “listed,” “labeled,” and “accepted.”
3
  29 C.F.R. § 1910.7 and app. A. OSHA standards that require NRTL approval do not
specify the particular safety requirements that the products must meet; NRTLs generally
test products against consensus-based safety standards developed by standards-
developing organizations. The process for developing these consensus-based safety
standards involves soliciting input from various stakeholders. Only certain equipment and
materials are required by OSHA standards to be approved by an NRTL. OSHA
categorizes these products into 38 broad categories. The largest of these categories,
according to OSHA, is electrical products and equipment. Other categories include
portable fire extinguishers, employee alarm systems, and different types of scaffolding.
4
 OSHA’s regulations specify the criteria that NRTLs must meet, which include testing
capability, implementation of certain internal controls, independence from employers or
manufacturers, and maintenance of effective procedures for reporting and handling
complaints. See 29 C.F.R. § 1910.7(b).




Page 3                                               GAO-13-88 Product Testing Laboratories
                                                expansion decisions expire at the end of the current accreditation
                                                period.

                                           3. Renewal: Determinations about whether to continue accrediting a
                                              lab as an NRTL once its previous accreditation has expired. An
                                              NRTL that submits a sufficient renewal application 9 months to 1
                                              year before its existing accreditation expires retains its NRTL
                                              accreditation until the final renewal decision is made.

                                       OSHA also conducts regular onsite audits of accredited NRTLs. The
                                       NRTL accreditation process generally includes the steps outlined in figure
                                       1.

Figure 1: Summary of OSHA’s Process for Initial, Expansion, and Renewal NRTL Accreditation Decisions




                                       Page 4                                        GAO-13-88 Product Testing Laboratories
OSHA collects fees from applicants and accredited NRTLs, and uses the
fees for program expenses. 5 OSHA first instituted fees in 2000 and
calculated them with the intention of covering core application processing
costs and audits of accredited labs. 6 In 2011, OSHA revised its
calculation of these fees to cover additional program costs, with the intent
that the NRTL program would be almost entirely funded through fees paid
by the labs. 7 Under the revised fee structure, the fee for application
review will be $17,750 for an initial NRTL application, $8,280 for
applications to expand to additional sites, and $300 for renewals and
other expansion applications, in addition to fees for other stages of the
process. Once fully implemented, OSHA expects that the fees will cover
approximately 95 percent of program costs, but revenues from fees and
the percentage of program costs they cover will vary from year to year
based on the number of applications submitted and audits performed.

Fifteen labs are currently accredited by OSHA as NRTLs. Combined,
these labs approve hundreds of types of products for use in the
workplace. All NRTL-approved products are labeled with the lab’s
certification mark, so that employers and other consumers can identify
them in the marketplace (see fig. 2). 8 To maintain its accreditation, an
NRTL is required to protect its certification mark by implementing control
procedures and conducting inspections to monitor its proper use. NRTLs
are also required to inspect manufacturers to ensure that products



5
    29 C.F.R. § 1910.7(f).
6
    65 Fed. Reg. 46,798 (July 31, 2000).
7
  76 Fed. Reg. 10,500 (Feb. 25, 2011). Prior to adjusting the fees, OSHA recovered about
half of the allowable reimbursable costs of the NRTL program. The 2011 revision to the
fee structure, which will be phased in over 3 years, allows OSHA to recoup additional
program costs, including personnel costs for leave and ancillary activities that support the
NRTL program. Ancillary activities include program administration, training, interagency
and international coordination, responding to information requests, handling complaints,
website maintenance, and meeting with stakeholders and interest groups.
8
  According to OSHA, the presence of the lab’s mark on a product does not necessarily
mean that it meets OSHA requirements because NRTLs sometimes use the same or
similar marks to denote testing or certification performed in accordance with other
accreditations. OSHA accepts only products that contain the NRTL's mark and that the
NRTL has certified within its scope of accreditation, which includes the test standards and
testing sites that OSHA has recognized for the NRTL. For information on each NRTL's
scope of recognition, consumers and employers may visit the OSHA website.
http://www.osha.gov/dts/otpca/nrtl/#nrtls




Page 5                                              GAO-13-88 Product Testing Laboratories
                                        conform to the test standards. 9 NRTLs carry out these responsibilities
                                        during follow-up inspections at the manufacturing facilities, where staff
                                        ensure that the mark is being controlled properly and that products are
                                        consistently being manufactured to meet safety standards.

Figure 2: Examples of NRTL Certification Marks




                                        Note: The certification marks listed above reflect marks that were in use as of October 2012.
                                        Certification marks are generally registered by the NRTL with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
                                        or an equivalent national or international body. While 15 labs are currently accredited by OSHA as
                                        NRTLs, only 13 marks are shown because two labs share the same certification mark with other labs.



Accreditation Processes at              In addition to OSHA, many other federal agencies administer programs
Other Selected Federal                  that require laboratories to receive accreditation to approve products.
Agencies                                Under these programs, labs are accredited for specialized purposes, such
                                        as to approve children’s products or ensure that electronic systems for
                                        records are consistent with federal standards. 10 Labs accredited by OSHA
                                        are sometimes also accredited to participate in other federal agencies’
                                        programs to perform product approval activities for different types of
                                        products or purposes.

                                        While the specific purposes of these accreditation programs differ, the
                                        various activities performed during the accreditation process are similar.
                                        Whether a particular activity is performed by federal agency staff in-
                                        house, or by external entities, varies by agency. First, regulatory agencies


                                        9
                                            29 C.F.R. § 1910.7(b)(2) (i)-(iii).
                                        10
                                          While similar accreditation processes may exist at the state or local government level,
                                        such processes are beyond the scope of this report.




                                        Page 6                                                 GAO-13-88 Product Testing Laboratories
establish the requirements that a lab must meet to determine whether
manufacturers are making products that meet the program’s standards. 11
Agencies may require that labs approve products by “testing” a sample of
a product onsite within the lab’s facilities, “certifying” that products meet
specific standards based on testing or activities such as inspecting the
manufacturers’ facilities, or both. 12 An NRTL accreditation by OSHA
signifies that the lab is approved by the agency to both (1) conduct
product safety tests and (2) certify that products meet relevant
consensus-based safety standards.

After the regulatory agency establishes its requirements, accreditation
organizations then review the operations of specific labs to determine
whether they are meeting the requirements of the regulatory agency. A
federal agency may act as the accreditation organization, or an agency
may designate outside entities to perform the accreditation function. Once
accredited, the lab follows these requirements to test and certify whether
products meet program standards. In some cases, the regulatory agency
will require that separate entities perform the testing and certification
functions, which is intended to increase the transparency and rigor of the
process. Regulatory agencies may exercise various types of oversight or
ongoing monitoring of the other actors in the accreditation process to
ensure that each of the actors in the process is meeting the program’s
requirements.

Federal agencies and offices may take on different roles in accrediting
labs depending on a variety of factors, including resource constraints,
statutory requirements, and decisions on how to manage risks associated
with non-compliance. In the case of the NRTL program, OSHA acts as
both the regulatory agency and the accreditation organization, with
support from fees paid to OSHA by applicants and participating NRTLs. In
contrast, some other agencies establish the requirements that labs must
meet, but designate one or more outside entities—such as private
organizations or other government entities—to perform the accreditation
function. Officials at selected agencies we interviewed explained that,



11
  Some requirements may be established by statute, depending on the structure of the
program.
12
  Entities that certify products but do not conduct testing may be called “certification
bodies” instead of labs. In this report, we use the term lab to mean entities that test,
certify, or both.




Page 7                                               GAO-13-88 Product Testing Laboratories
                                             under this model, the outside accreditation organizations, rather than the
                                             regulatory agency, are responsible for charging and collecting fees from
                                             labs in order to cover the cost of accreditation application processing and
                                             approval. The agencies we interviewed do not pay the external
                                             organizations for performing accreditation duties. See table 1 below for a
                                             brief description of selected agencies’ accreditation processes.

Table 1: Accreditation Processes Used by Selected Federal Agencies, for Various Purposes

                                                                                                  U.S. Department of                   U.S. Consumer
                                                    Federal Communications                        Health and Human                     Product Safety
                                                    Commission                                    Services                             Commission
Federal agency            OSHA                      (FCC)                                         (HHS)                                (CPSC)
Program name              NRTL Program              Equipment Authorization                       Health Information       Conformity Assessment
                                                    Program                                       Technology Certification Body Recognition
                                                                                                  Program                  Program
Brief description of      Labs are accredited to    Labs are accredited to test or                Labs are accredited to               Labs are accredited to
program                   test and certify that     certify that certain devices using            test or certify that health          test children’s products
                          products used in the      the radio frequency spectrum                  information technology               for compliance with
                          U.S. workplace meet       meet FCC’s technical standards                systems meet HHS’s                   CPSC’s safety rules.
                          appropriate consensus-    to prevent harmful interference.              relevant standards and
                          based safety standards.                                                 certification criteria.
                                                          a                                             b                                    c
Designates an             No                        Yes                                           Yes                                  Yes
external entity or
entities to assist with
accrediting labs for
product approval
activities
                                             Source: GAO review of OSHA, FCC, HHS, and CPSC documents and interviews with officials.
                                             a
                                              FCC regulations may require a given piece of equipment to meet one of three levels of review before
                                             it can be imported or sold. According to officials, whether a given product requires testing or
                                             certification depends on FCC’s assessment of its risk. The agency has designated the National
                                             Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program, administered by the National Institute of Standards and
                                             Technology (NIST) of the U.S. Department of Commerce and two private organizations to accredit
                                             testing laboratories. NIST has currently designated two private organizations to accredit certification
                                             organizations for FCC’s purposes. For both testing and certification, FCC must agree with the
                                             accreditation recommendation made by the external organization before the decision is finalized. See
                                             47 U.S.C. § 302a, 47 C.F.R. §§ 0.241(f)-(g), 2.960, 2.962, 2.948(d).

                                             b
                                              HHS’s Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) has designated
                                             two different accrediting organizations to accredit labs to perform different types of activities. First,
                                             NIST’s National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program accredits laboratories to test products.
                                             Second, for product certification activities, one accreditation organization is approved by ONC
                                             through a competitive process held every 3 years. Currently, the approved accreditation organization
                                             is a private organization. See generally 42 U.S.C. § 300jj-11(c)(5), 45 C.F.R. §§ 170.500-170.599.

                                             c
                                              Accreditation organizations must be a signatory to the International Laboratory Accreditation
                                             Cooperation-Mutual Recognition Arrangement.16 C.F.R. § 1112.3. Signatories have been peer-
                                             reviewed and determined to meet the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation’s criteria for
                                             competence. Once a testing lab has been accredited, the accreditation must be registered with, and
                                             accepted by, CPSC. All regulated children’s products are required to be tested by third-party
                                             laboratories, but the manufacturers and private labelers certify the products. See 15 U.S.C. §




                                             Page 8                                                                GAO-13-88 Product Testing Laboratories
2063(a)(2). CPSC’s requirements for accreditation and testing were published in separate notices
specific to particular safety rules. In May 2012, CPSC published a notice of proposed rulemaking that
would establish general requirements consistent with these notices. 77 Fed. Reg. 31,086 (May 24,
2012).


Guidance issued by the National Institute of Standards and Technology
(NIST), in accordance with the National Technology Transfer and
Advancement Act of 1995, encourages federal agencies to conduct their
accreditation processes in a manner that promotes collaboration, reduces
duplication, and harnesses the private sector, as appropriate. 13 Many
agencies, including OSHA, have incorporated aspects of these principles
into their program design, such as by requiring the use of consensus-
based standards developed by the private sector for product safety
testing. Unlike OSHA, however, some accreditation programs explicitly
require that labs meet international standards and guidelines developed
by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) as a condition
of accreditation. 14 This can reduce duplication and promote consistency
among accreditation processes within and across countries. In addition to
developing and disseminating guidance, NIST provides technical
assistance services to federal agencies upon request to assist with
designing and implementing accreditation processes. 15 This technical
assistance often takes the form of one-on-one consulting, and NIST may
help agencies start new accreditation programs or tailor an agency’s
existing program to meet the agency’s specific needs. NIST’s National
Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program also assists other federal
agencies by performing testing lab accreditation. HHS and FCC, for
example, utilize NIST’s National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation
Program to accredit testing laboratories.




13
   See Pub. L. No. 104-113, § 12(b), 110 Stat. 775, 783 (1996), codified at 15 U.S.C. §
272(b)(13) and NIST’s Guidance on Federal Conformity Assessment Activities, 65 Fed.
Reg. 48,894 (Aug. 10, 2000), codified at 15 C.F.R. pt. 287. The Act and guidance refer to
conformity assessment, which NIST defines as any activity concerned with determining
directly or indirectly that requirements are fulfilled. Conformity assessment includes
accreditation and testing.
14
   ISO is the world’s largest developer of voluntary international standards, including
standards on testing and certification.
15
  Congress established NIST (formerly the National Bureau of Standards) in 1901 to
support industry, commerce, scientific institutions, and all branches of the government. It
works with industry to develop and apply technology, measurements, and standards,
among other activities.




Page 9                                                   GAO-13-88 Product Testing Laboratories
Scope of Staff
Responsibilities and
Unclear Application
Procedures Lengthen
the Accreditation
Process

Application Processing   None of the accreditation applications approved in the last 5 years were
and Approval Times Are   processed and approved within the time frames that OSHA officials
Lengthy Compared to      consider desirable, and the time frames for some applications were
                         significantly longer. In the 5-year period from June 2007 to June 2012,
OSHA’s Desired Time      OSHA approved 13 applications. Processing and approval times ranged
Frames and Other         from 1.2 to 5 years (see fig. 3). 16
Benchmarks




                         16
                            Our analysis focused on applications with final approval decisions published in the
                         Federal Register. The information above does not include cases in which OSHA denied
                         accreditation or the application was closed before a final decision was made. Since 2007,
                         one renewal application was formally denied by OSHA and it took OSHA over 8 years to
                         complete its review of that application. In addition, OSHA closed some applications
                         without publishing a final decision on them in the Federal Register. An application may be
                         closed in this manner for reasons such as an applicant submitting a new application that
                         supersedes the first; an applicant choosing to withdraw an application; or an applicant
                         discontinuing communication with OSHA. In at least one case, OSHA suggested that an
                         applicant withdraw an application partway through the review process because the agency
                         deemed the application unlikely to ultimately receive approval. Seven applications
                         submitted since June 11, 2007, were closed without OSHA issuing a final decision.




                         Page 10                                           GAO-13-88 Product Testing Laboratories
Figure 3: Duration of Application Processing Times for Applications Approved from June 11, 2007 to June 11, 2012




                                        Note: These time frames include the time that the applications were with OSHA for review as well as
                                        any time that the applicants were addressing deficiencies identified by OSHA.


                                        OSHA officials told us that the desirable time frame for processing and
                                        approving applications is 12 to 18 months for initial applications, 6 to 8
                                        months for expansion applications, and 3 to 4 months for renewal
                                        applications. OSHA officials said they expect an application to fall within
                                        this range if there are no major delays or application deficiencies. For all
                                        13 applications processed during the 5-year period we reviewed, it took
                                        much longer to process and approve the application than the desirable
                                        time frames, and in some cases, years longer (see table 2).




                                        Page 11                                                 GAO-13-88 Product Testing Laboratories
Table 2: Actual vs. Desirable Processing Time Frames for Applications Approved from June 11, 2007 to June 11, 2012

                                                                                                           Number of applications
Type and number of        Range of processing times for                Desirable processing times     approved within the desirable
approved applications     approved applications                        identified by OSHA                  processing time frames
Initial (2)               2.6 years and 5 years                        12 to18 months                                               0
Expansion (10)            1.2 years to 3.2 years                       6 to 8 months                                                0
Renewal (1)               4.4 years                                    3 to 4 months                                                0
                                          Source: GAO analysis of OSHA data.


                                          The NRTL accreditation process is also lengthy in relation to the amount
                                          of time that NRTL accreditations are valid. Our analysis of the processing
                                          time frames for these initial, expansion, and renewal applications showed
                                          that it took OSHA 2.5 years or more to complete about half of them.
                                          These time frames signify a relatively long application period for an
                                          accreditation term of 5 years and, for some renewal applications, a
                                          lengthy period in which an existing lab is operating under an extension of
                                          its existing accreditation.

                                          In addition to these lengthy time frames for approving applications, many
                                          application decisions have been under review by OSHA for substantial
                                          lengths of time and remain pending. Of the 29 applications pending
                                          approval as of June 2012, 12 had been pending for between 5 and 10
                                          years. Therefore, they had been under review by OSHA for at least as
                                          long as the term of the 5-year accreditation (see fig. 4). Almost all of the
                                          applications pending for this long were renewal applications. Further, the
                                          number of pending applications may underestimate the total number of
                                          accreditation cases that are awaiting review. At least two of the eight
                                          laboratories we interviewed had chosen not to submit new expansion
                                          applications until their earlier expansions were approved because they
                                          said that it is not productive to have multiple expansion applications going
                                          through OSHA’s process at once. Officials from one lab noted that they
                                          decided not to submit a second application to OSHA while the first was
                                          under review because they did not want OSHA to divide its time between
                                          the two applications.




                                          Page 12                                               GAO-13-88 Product Testing Laboratories
Figure 4: Length of Time Pending Applications Had Been under Review, as of June 11, 2012




                                        Note: This figure includes all applications for which OSHA had not made a final decision as of June
                                        11, 2012. For each application, it shows the elapsed time between the date it was submitted and
                                        June 11, 2012.




                                        Page 13                                                  GAO-13-88 Product Testing Laboratories
                          The lengthy NRTL accreditation process results in negative economic
                          consequences for applying labs, according to most of the applicants with
                          whom we spoke. Lab officials said that NRTL accreditation processing
                          times make it difficult to attract or retain customers or hire and retain
                          technical experts. For example, an official with a lab that had a pending
                          NRTL expansion application told us that his lab had already been
                          accredited by another organization to test and certify the same products
                          for use outside the workplace. However, OSHA had not approved the
                          lab’s application to test and certify these same products for use in the
                          workplace although the lab’s application had been under review for
                          several years. He said OSHA’s lengthy NRTL accreditation process hurt
                          the lab’s relationship with clients because many manufacturers do not
                          want to work with a laboratory unless it can approve products for use
                          within the workplace. An official from another laboratory said that the
                          company had lost staff members who were hired specifically to support
                          the lab’s application for an expanded scope of work. Given the length of
                          time that the lab’s expansion application has been under review, it could
                          not retain these specialized staff members while it waited for NRTL
                          approval. The laboratory will ultimately need to rehire individuals with this
                          type of expertise if the application is approved.


Imbalance between         The way the NRTL program is designed requires its four staff members to
Program Staffing Levels   balance many wide-ranging responsibilities and can lead to delays in
and Scope of              approving accreditation applications. Two senior engineers and two junior
                          staff members share responsibility for all aspects of the NRTL program. 17
Responsibilities Led to   Labor attorneys also assist the NRTL program. The program is structured
Long Time Frames and      so that these staff members are responsible for the following:
Delayed Approval of
Applications              •    All aspects of approving accreditation applications. This includes
                               reviewing all aspects of the accreditation applications; communicating
                               with applicants regarding questions and application status; conducting
                               site visits; making preliminary accreditation decisions; and preparing
                               the Federal Register notices that formalize accreditation decisions.




                          17
                             OSHA hired an NRTL program director in August 2012. According to OSHA staff, the
                          director’s responsibilities focus on providing direction and leadership for the office.
                          According to OSHA officials, the individual is not involved in making specific accreditation
                          or audit determinations.




                          Page 14                                             GAO-13-88 Product Testing Laboratories
•    Oversight activities for existing labs. According to NRTL program
     policy documents, accredited labs and satellite offices 18 should be
     audited by OSHA personnel. 19 In total, this includes auditing
     approximately 120 sites worldwide. The staff are also responsible for
     investigating any complaints OSHA receives about accredited labs.
•    Updating program guidance and procedures. This includes making
     revisions to program documents including the NRTL program directive
     on program policies, procedures, and guidelines, as well as other
     guidance on the application review process. Staff must also update
     OSHA’s NRTL website to provide information such as the names and
     approved products for each NRTL.
•    Responding to requests from other federal agencies. OSHA staff
     told us that federal entities such as the Office of Management and
     Budget and the Office of the United States Trade Representative
     frequently request NRTL program staff input on questions related to
     international trade and product safety.

OSHA officials told us that balancing these responsibilities can be
challenging and leads to difficult decisions about how to prioritize their
tasks. They said that their workloads are often affected by tasks that
originate outside the NRTL program office. For example, staff reported
having to postpone accreditation work when urgent requests came in
from the Office of the United States Trade Representative or other federal
agencies.

Given these wide-ranging duties, NRTL program staff sometimes set
aside applications for significant amounts of time while they attend to their
other responsibilities. OSHA often cited these competing demands when


18
   In May 2009, OSHA implemented a new segment of the NRTL program called the
Satellite Notification and Acceptance Program (SNAP), which increased the number of
sites that can be operated by NRTLs. SNAP allows NRTLs to use facilities referred to as
“SNAP sites,” which the NRTLs control and audit, in order to perform particular functions
necessary in the NRTL’s testing and certification operations. Participation in SNAP is
voluntary, and NRTLs must apply to OSHA for approval to participate in the program. 74
Fed. Reg. 923 (Jan. 9, 2009).
19
   Policy documents direct OSHA staff to conduct a combination of onsite and office audits
of accredited labs. Onsite audits should be performed for each NRTL either annually or on
another frequency as determined by the NRTL program director. OSHA may perform an
office audit of each NRTL not scheduled for an annual onsite audit. According to OSHA
documents, OSHA officials select SNAP sites to audit, in part based on previous audit
results. The number of SNAP sites that OSHA audits in any year will not usually exceed
50 percent of the total number of SNAP sites.




Page 15                                            GAO-13-88 Product Testing Laboratories
explaining to applicants its slow process for approving their applications.
For example, one applicant said that when he asked for a status update
on his organization’s application several months after submitting it to
OSHA, an agency official told him it had not yet been opened because no
one had had time to start processing the application. OSHA officials also
told us that more complex applications, which may take a lot of time to
process, are sometimes set aside in order to process applications that are
more straight-forward, but there is no formal method of prioritizing
applications for review.

While OSHA does not systematically collect data on the proportion of time
an application is being actively processed versus the time it is waiting for
review, available information supports applicants’ concerns that OSHA
may not be actively reviewing applications for a significant amount of the
time they are at the agency. OSHA processing, applicant revisions, and
public comment periods accounted for some, but not all, of the total
duration of recent application reviews. The estimated time frames for
each of these steps are described below, but the full duration of
application processing and approval times for most applications approved
between June 2007 and June 2012 took months or years longer than the
estimated time frames for each of these steps combined. This suggests
that a given application may be set aside for significant amounts of time
while OSHA personnel attend to their other responsibilities.

•    OSHA’s average processing times: OSHA documents show that,
     on average, staff actively work on initial applications for the equivalent
     of about 2.5 months and expansion or renewal applications for the
     equivalent of about 1 month. 20
•    Applicant revisions: OSHA officials noted that labs often have to
     revise their applications after deficiencies are identified, which
     extends the duration of the time frames for approving applications.
     This may involve two rounds of OSHA comments on written
     applications and two rounds of related applicant revisions. OSHA
     officials said they have sometimes allowed up to 1 year and 2 months


20
   OSHA calculated these estimates of the average time it takes the agency to approve
applications in the course of establishing its new fees. See 76 Fed. Reg. 10,500, 10,505-
07 (Feb. 25, 2011). For initial applications, these estimates assume that two OSHA staff
conducted an onsite review of one site for 3 days each. For expansion applications that do
not involve expanding the number of testing sites, these estimates assume that two OSHA
staff conducted an onsite review of one site for 1 day each. The estimate for renewal
applications includes one onsite visit of 3 days by one person.




Page 16                                           GAO-13-88 Product Testing Laboratories
     for applicants to complete such revisions. Applicants may also correct
     deficiencies identified by OSHA during site visits, and OSHA allowed
     approximately 1 month for one recent initial applicant to do so. In our
     analysis of the application processing files for three recent initial
     applications, we found that all three applicants revised their
     applications at least once and the total revisions for each application
     took from 6 to 11 months. 21
•    Public comment period: For all types of applications, OSHA
     provides a public comment period that begins when it publishes its
     preliminary accreditation decision in the Federal Register. According
     to OSHA’s regulations, the minimum period for public comment on
     initial applications is 30 days, while the minimum period for public
     comment on renewal or expansion applications is 15 days.

In addition to extending the time it takes OSHA to approve applications,
staff workload also leads to delays in responding to applicants’ questions
about the status of their applications. Almost all of the applicants we
interviewed expressed frustration about the amount of time it took to
receive responses from OSHA and often said that OSHA officials
attributed slow response times to their workload. Officials at one
laboratory stated that there was about a 50/50 chance of ever receiving a
response from OSHA when they contacted program staff. Officials of
another laboratory described the OSHA accreditation process as a “black
box” because applicants were uncertain about when their applications
would reach the next milestone. Several applicants said that this
uncertainty made the long application processing time frames even more
difficult for their businesses because they could not plan for budgetary
needs or update their clients on when they would offer new services.
Several labs also noted that other accreditation programs respond to
questions within a few days, so the delays in receiving responses from
OSHA staff make the program an outlier. OSHA officials told us they used
to provide applicants with quarterly updates that included projected target


21
   We reviewed files of three initial applications approved or closed between June 2007
and June 2012; one of these was not included in our analysis of approval times because it
was withdrawn before a final decision was made. This applicant only provided one round
of revisions prior to withdrawing its application. We calculated these estimates by
identifying the date that OSHA provided letters of deficiency to applicants and the dates
that applicants submitted revised applications. In cases where OSHA provided two letters
of deficiency and applicants provided two revised applications, we included both revision
time periods in our calculation. This calculation does not account for any other time
periods when OSHA may have been waiting on more informal email responses from
applicants, etc.




Page 17                                           GAO-13-88 Product Testing Laboratories
dates for the various stages of the application approval process, but they
stopped providing these quarterly updates because the agency could not
meet its projected target dates.

Decisions about how to prioritize staff workload also affect the amount of
internal review that accreditation decisions receive before they are
finalized and can have negative impacts on applicants’ trust of program
operations. GAO guidance on internal controls highlights the importance
of separating key duties such as initial decisions and reviews of those
decisions. 22 International accreditation standards also require that final
accreditation decisions be made by competent individuals or committees
different from those who carried out the assessment. 23 However, OSHA’s
accreditation decisions for NRTLs are not consistently reviewed by a
second technical reviewer before being finalized. OSHA officials said that
the decisions are reviewed for legal accuracy, and are approved by upper
management, but given the small size of the NRTL staff and their heavy
workload, the person who conducts the initial reviews of applications is
often the same person who makes the final recommendation about
whether a lab should be accredited. While this might decrease the
processing time for some applications or be the most feasible approach
given program staffing levels, it can create a greater potential for error or
bias. Two applicants we spoke with expressed concern about the
absence of a second technical reviewer.

Further, staffing roles and responsibilities affect the level of oversight
OSHA provides once an accreditation application is approved. For
example, to reduce the number of pending applications, OSHA staff
reprioritized their duties so that a senior engineer could spend the
majority of his time processing and approving applications. While this
provided more resources for the application process, officials said it
reduced the time they can spend auditing existing NRTLs, and several
labs we interviewed confirmed that they had been audited less frequently
in recent years. Auditing the NRTLs less frequently increases the
likelihood that any problems with an accredited lab will go unnoticed. The



22
  GAO, Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government, GAO/AIMD-00-21.3.1
(Washington, D.C.: Nov.1999).
23
  See ISO, Conformity Assessment—General Requirements for Accreditation Bodies
Accrediting Conformity Assessment Bodies, ISO/IEC 17011:2004, 4.3.5 and 7.8-7.9
(Geneva, Switzerland, February 2005).




Page 18                                        GAO-13-88 Product Testing Laboratories
                         extensive time it takes OSHA to approve renewal applications also means
                         that labs are sometimes operating under previous accreditations for much
                         longer than the 5 years for which they are valid because OSHA
                         regulations generally allow labs to retain their accreditation and continue
                         approving products while they wait for OSHA’s decisions on their
                         applications for renewal. This can minimize the impact that processing
                         delays have on a lab’s business operations, but it also means that a lab
                         with performance problems could operate for an extended period of time
                         after its 5-year accreditation period, even if the lab’s renewal is ultimately
                         rejected. For example, one lab’s recent renewal application was pending
                         for 8 years before OSHA ultimately rejected it.


Unclear Application      Most of the applicants we spoke with told us that OSHA’s guidance does
Requirements Further     not always provide adequate information about the program’s application
Increase the Length of   requirements, which creates confusion and adds time to the review
                         process. Applicants found the guidance particularly confusing because
Accreditation Reviews    OSHA’s requirements for the content and level of detail labs must provide
                         in their accreditation applications differ in important ways from those of
                         many other organizations that accredit safety labs by using current
                         international standards for accreditation. 24 For example, several NRTLs
                         noted that the types of product approval activities they conduct or are
                         applying to conduct for the NRTL program are similar to the work that
                         they do under other accreditation programs. Some of the information
                         OSHA requires during its application process to test those products
                         differs from what other programs require in ways that applicants believe
                         are not clearly articulated in NRTL guidance. When the program last
                         updated its application policies in 1999, OSHA developed these
                         deviations from international standards in order to ensure that NRTLs
                         were qualified to meet all aspects of the program’s mission and
                         requirements. At the time they completed their applications for the NRTL
                         program, most applicants said they were unclear about how and why the
                         NRTL requirements differed from international accreditation standards,
                         which led to confusion and affected the timeliness of the process. For



                         24
                            The key international standards for conducting safety lab accreditation were developed
                         by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). ISO/IEC 17011:2004 provides
                         standards for how accreditation organizations conduct their work, ISO/IEC 17025:2005
                         provides standards for how testing laboratories should be assessed for accreditation, and
                         ISO/IEC 17065:2012 provides guidance on how certification organizations should be
                         assessed for accreditation.




                         Page 19                                           GAO-13-88 Product Testing Laboratories
example, officials at a lab that recently submitted an initial application to
OSHA said the agency required them to provide additional detail about
the work procedures they planned to use when conducting tests of
equipment. This information was not required when they submitted similar
applications to other accreditation organizations and lab officials were
unaware of this difference when they initially prepared and submitted their
accreditation application to OSHA. The lab ultimately had to revise its
application to meet OSHA’s requirements, extending both the amount of
time lab staff spent preparing the application and the time OSHA officials
spent reviewing it. OHSA officials told us that such detail is key to
ensuring that lab staff have the knowledge to perform the required safety
tests. Officials stated that the agency intends to revise its policies and
guidance to better convey its application expectations, but has not yet
done so due to workload issues.

Confusion resulting from OSHA’s unclear guidance is compounded in
cases where OSHA’s requirements are evolving. For example, OSHA has
been revising its process for verifying the independence of labs since
2008, but it has not updated the independence policies in its policy
directive or other application guidance. 25 OSHA officials said that the
agency continues to process renewal applications while it revises its
independence policies, but they have delayed making final decisions until
the requirements are finalized. They noted that this process is time-
consuming. There were 13 renewal applications pending in June 2012, 10
of which were pending for 5 years or more. Officials from several labs
said that they have not received clear guidance from OSHA on the level
of information required to illustrate independence and, therefore, they
have had to provide several rounds of information to OSHA in their
applications. One lab said that gathering this additional information is time
consuming because it often involves obtaining information about


25
   OSHA’s regulations require that an NRTL be “completely independent of employers
subject to the tested equipment requirements, and of any manufacturers or vendors of
equipment or materials being tested for these purposes.” 29 C.F.R. § 1910.7(b)(3). A 2005
report by the Department of Labor’s Office of the Inspector General was the impetus for
the change to NRTL program procedures for verifying independence. Department of Labor
Office of the Inspector General, OSHA Correctly Denied ED&D’s Incomplete NRTL
Application, 05-05-002-10-001, (March 31, 2005: Washington, D.C.). This report had three
recommendations related to independence: (1) make independence reviews a mandatory
part of application reviews and periodic audits; (2) modify current policy to ensure that all
areas related to an NRTL’s recognition, including independence, are reviewed at least
once during each 5-year recognition period; and (3) review two NRTLs’ current business
practices to ensure conformance with the independence requirement.




Page 20                                             GAO-13-88 Product Testing Laboratories
individuals and companies with a minority financial interest in the labs,
some of whom are located in different countries. Several applicants with
pending expansion or renewal applications also said that some of
OSHA’s requirements seem to have evolved over time and OSHA has not
revised its guidance to include these new requirements. Representatives
from these labs said OSHA identified deficiencies in their most recent
expansion applications although they provided similar types of information
in previous years on applications accepted by OSHA.

While OSHA’s application requirements may differ from international
standards in order to meet the agency’s safety mission, OSHA has not
compared its requirements to current international standards to identify
differences and assess their costs and benefits in order to ensure that the
time devoted to assessing applicants against additional requirements is
well-spent. OSHA officials told us the additional information about work
procedures and independence they require of applicants is necessary to
ensure the quality of the product approval process and that applicants
follow program requirements. For example, OSHA officials said that the
requirement in OSHA regulations that labs be “completely independent”
of manufacturers presents a high bar for application review, and
international standards on accreditation do not include such extensive
requirements. When OSHA developed its NRTL policy directive in 1999
detailing the specific requirements for accreditation applications, it
modified the international standards that were available at that time to fit
NRTL program needs and requirements. 26 However, subsequently, the
agency has not formally reviewed the NRTL procedures against the
current versions of international standards on accreditation or recently
assessed the risks, costs, and benefits of having procedures that deviate
from these standards. NIST guidance recommends that agencies
establish ongoing processes for reviewing their accreditation activities
and, to the extent possible, coordinate with federal, private, and
international organizations. Officials told us that they would like to
evaluate their procedures against current international standards, but
have not had time to do so. Without OSHA conducting a risk assessment
of its current requirements, the extent of any value added from the



26
   The NRTL program application requirements are described in OSHA Directive CPL 01-
00-003: NRTL Program Policies, Procedures, and Guidelines. OSHA’s regulations state
that an applicant shall “provide sufficient information and detail” demonstrating that it
meets NRTL program requirements, and identify the scope of recognition it is seeking,
including the testing methods it will use. 29 C.F.R. § 1910.7, app. A.




Page 21                                           GAO-13-88 Product Testing Laboratories
                           program’s additional application requirements is unknown, as are any
                           trade-offs the agency makes by devoting more resources to the
                           application review. In addition, the rationale for these requirements may
                           be unclear to applicants. Perhaps as a consequence, about half of the
                           NRTL applicants we spoke with questioned whether all of OSHA’s
                           application procedures were necessary. For example, two applicants
                           questioned whether it was necessary for OSHA’s independence review to
                           cover individuals sitting on the boards of companies only marginally
                           affiliated with the testing lab. On the other hand, representatives from two
                           of the eight labs we interviewed said that certain OSHA requirements
                           enhanced the quality of the program by, for example, providing detailed
                           information about work procedures that was helpful in training new staff.
                           While additional requirements imposed by OSHA may have value, where
                           their purpose has not been articulated or their actual value has not been
                           assessed, applicants may be more likely to question whether the
                           requirements are justified and OSHA may not be expending its resources
                           to optimum benefit.


                           While a range of promising strategies for improving timeliness exist,
Strategies for             including some that might help address resource constraints, mitigate
Improving Timeliness       confusion over application procedures, and improve efficiency, OSHA has
                           taken limited steps to implement such strategies in its accreditation
Exist, but OSHA has        process. Based on our review of various sources, including GAO reports,
Taken Limited Steps        we identified three promising strategies for improving timeliness: (1)
                           aligning program design with program mission and resources; (2)
to Implement Them          providing clear guidance and timely communication to program
                           stakeholders; and (3) developing performance measures and using data
                           to track progress in meeting them to identify inefficiencies. For more
                           information on how we arrived at these three strategies and the sources
                           we reviewed, see appendix I.


OSHA’s Program Design is   Past GAO work on program management has found that agencies can
Not Aligned with Program   improve efficiency, including timeliness, by aligning program design with
Resources                  resources through various actions. 27 For example, in some instances,
                           streamlining procedures can save resources, improve productivity, and



                           27
                             See GAO, Streamlining Government: Key Practices from Select Efficiency Initiatives
                           Should be Shared Governmentwide, GAO-11-908 (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 30, 2011).




                           Page 22                                          GAO-13-88 Product Testing Laboratories
help staff focus more time on performing essential program activities. In
other instances, a fundamental reexamination of program structure may
be appropriate and can provide insight into whether government
operations are outmoded and need to be restructured. According to
guidance from the Office of Management and Budget and previous GAO
reports on risk management, agencies can also benefit from evaluating
program procedures by analyzing the associated risks, benefits, and
costs of changes to program operations. 28 Conducting such analyses
helps agencies effectively decide how to prioritize their work, consistent
with their mission and resources. Furthermore, collaborating with other
government agencies and similar industry organizations is another step
that agencies can take to improve program design and align program
structure with resources. Collaboration allows programs to capitalize on
the expertise of others, coordinate activities, and avoid unnecessary
duplication and complexity.

We found that OSHA has not formally revisited its structure for accrediting
testing laboratories since the NRTL program started over 20 years ago.
Because the NRTL program was established by regulation and not by
statute, OSHA has flexibility to define its requirements for accreditation.
When the NRTL program was established in the 1980s and OSHA’s
current approach to accreditation was determined, OSHA said that it
intended to monitor the program and look for alternatives to its
accreditation approach, including investigating the possibility of using
other entities to carry out NRTL accreditation activities. 29 However, we
found that OSHA has taken limited steps to think strategically about the
future of the NRTL program and how alternatives to its current
accreditation process may allow the program to fulfill its mission in a more
efficient way. An NRTL official said there have been informal discussions
at the staff level about working with an external organization to conduct
aspects of the accreditation review process, but the agency has not
formally assessed such approaches internally or in collaboration with




28
   See Office of Management and Budget, Updated Principles for Risk Analysis, M-07-24
(Washington, D.C.: Sept. 19, 2007), and GAO, Strategic Budgeting: Risk Management
Principles Can Help DHS Allocate Resources to Highest Priorities, GAO-05-824T
(Washington, D.C.: June 29, 2005).
29
     53 Fed. Reg. 12,102, 12,114 (Apr. 12, 1988).




Page 23                                             GAO-13-88 Product Testing Laboratories
other agencies such as NIST. 30 Several NRTL applicants we interviewed
thought that OSHA should reevaluate its approach to accreditation. For
example, a few of the NRTL applicants we interviewed said there has
been a shift in accreditation approaches since the NRTL program started
in the late 1980s and OSHA has not always kept pace with these
changes.

Although OSHA has not recently revisited its overall approach to
accreditation, it has begun implementing some steps to better align NRTL
program design with its resources; the outcome of these actions,
including how they will improve timeliness, remains unclear. For example,
OSHA is in the process of phasing in increased fees for the NRTL
program, which are intended to allow OSHA to recoup a larger
percentage of the cost of administering the program, and OSHA plans to
use that revenue to hire additional staff. However, even with these
increased fees, OSHA estimates NRTL program expenditures for fiscal
year 2012 to be almost $800,000 greater than the fees collected:
revenues are estimated to be about $100,000 and expenditures to be
$870,000. 31 An NRTL program official said that the estimated revenues
for fiscal year 2012 are relatively low mainly because staff were not able
to perform many audits due to their workload. 32 The revenues from
increased fees are intended to be used to hire additional staff to improve
the timeliness of its application review process and to perform other
necessary program functions. However, OSHA has encountered
difficulties trying to find senior level staff with engineering experience and
has been unable to fill the positions to date. Therefore, OSHA plans to
revisit its hiring strategy and seeks to hire four additional staff members in


30
  While NIST provides technical assistance services to federal agencies upon request to
assist with designing and implementing accreditation processes, the Performance
Management Center, which is housed within the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of the
Assistant Secretary for Administration and Management, strives to improve Labor’s
program performance efforts through data-driven analysis and sharing best practices.
Among its other activities, the Performance Management Center provides advisory
services to those Labor programs seeking to improve performance, but only upon request.
We found that OSHA has not consulted with the Performance Management Center.
31
  The expenditure figure is based on the existing four NRTL program staff and includes
estimates of salary and benefits for the program staff and for one Labor attorney who
assists the program; travel expenses, mainly for performing audits; and general office
expenses.
32
  OSHA charges labs fees for the audits, which increases the agency’s revenues for that
year.




Page 24                                          GAO-13-88 Product Testing Laboratories
2013. If the agency is successful in its hiring efforts, officials anticipate
holding extensive training sessions for new staff members to prepare
them for their responsibilities. While using higher fees to increase staffing
is promising in theory as a means of improving timeliness, GAO has
found in the past that, in practice, there may be problems associated with
this approach. For example, it can be difficult to hire and train people
quickly enough or retain them long enough to affect timeliness.
Furthermore, if fewer accreditation applications are submitted than
expected, fees may fall short of estimates, making it difficult to plan and
budget for the program. 33 Due to the unpredictability of the volume of
applications received, OSHA cannot be certain that increased fees will
lead to higher revenues, as projected, and the outcome of OSHA’s efforts
to hire and retain additional staff remains unclear.

Unlike OSHA’s NRTL accreditation process, other federal agencies we
interviewed relied in part on other public or private organizations to carry
out the accreditation process and maximize their resources. The outside
accreditation organizations often charge and collect fees from the labs in
order to cover the cost of accreditation application processing and
approval, but according to the federal agencies we interviewed, these
organizations do not charge fees to the federal agencies. The federal
agencies we interviewed also worked with NIST to plan, design, and
develop their accreditation programs. Although each federal agency has a
unique mission and a distinct process for accrediting labs, the examples
below illustrate varied actions that agencies have taken in their efforts to
adapt their processes to maximize resources and meet their own unique
missions and circumstances. 34




33
  See GAO, Food and Drug Administration: Effect of User Fees on Drug Approval Times,
Withdrawals, and Other Agency Activities, GAO-02-958 (Washington, D.C.: September
2002).
34
   GAO did not evaluate the effectiveness of the selected agencies’ accreditation
programs and processes, but we analyzed them for variations in structure. For more
information on how we selected federal agencies for review, see appendix I.




Page 25                                          GAO-13-88 Product Testing Laboratories
•    FCC’s Equipment Authorization Program 35 - FCC officials told us
     the agency originally required labs to submit accreditation applications
     directly to FCC, but then restructured its approach to address
     resource constraints in the agency by collaborating with outside
     accreditation organizations. In order to satisfy FCC’s requirements,
     labs accredited through these outside accrediting organizations must
     meet both international standards and additional program-specific
     requirements. While the outside organizations evaluate labs and
     make recommendations about whether a lab meets FCC’s criteria and
     procedural requirements, FCC makes the final decision about whether
     to accept the lab into its programs. An FCC official said that working
     with outside accrediting organizations means that FCC has to
     constantly educate these organizations about program changes and
     new technology. However, the official said that using this structure
     allows FCC to use its limited resources to focus on critical compliance
     issues and the more technical aspects of the program while
     capitalizing on the expertise of organizations that have specialized
     backgrounds in accreditation.
•    HHS’s Health Information Technology Certification Program -
     Like FCC, HHS officials decided to collaborate with external
     organizations in order to maximize program resources and harness
     the expertise of others. HHS officials said that because health
     information technology systems are complex, have important
     implications for patient safety, and present a high risk for potential
     fraud and abuse, it was important for HHS to be involved in
     developing policies and to tailor HHS’s accreditation processes to fit
     the unique needs of the program. 36 For example, according to agency
     officials, HHS worked with NIST to develop sector-specific
     requirements for accrediting certification organizations in addition to
     using international accreditation standards. HHS officials said that by
     designating outside organizations to make accreditation decisions,


35
   The Communications Act of 1934, as amended, authorizes FCC to regulate devices
that may cause radio interference, 47 U.S.C. § 302a. FCC has developed two separate
accreditation programs to support its equipment authorization activities, one focused on
testing and one focused on certification. Information included in this section largely refers
to FCC’s certification program. For more information about FCC’s equipment authorization
activities, please see table 1 of this report.
36
   The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act authorized
certain Medicare and Medicaid incentive payments for the adoption and meaningful use of
certified electronic health record technology, and required HHS to develop a voluntary
certification program for health information technology. Pub. L. No. 111-5, div. A, tit. XIII,
div. B, tit. IV, 123 Stat. 115, 226-79, 467-96 (2009).




Page 26                                              GAO-13-88 Product Testing Laboratories
     they are better able to focus on the program’s goals and strategic
     planning, and are less focused on administrative tasks, such as
     collecting and tracking fees. They also said that using this structure
     has allowed them to make decisions about how to design their
     accreditation approach based on what will best fulfill their mission,
     rather than what resources are available in-house.
•    CPSC’s Conformity Assessment Body Recognition Program -
     Officials at CPSC recognized that their relatively small staff was not
     prepared to perform accreditations themselves and that there were
     not enough time, resources, and expertise within the CPSC to run a
     large-scale international accreditation program. 37 After consulting with
     NIST and weighing its options, CPSC ultimately decided to leverage
     the expertise and experience of an international organization whose
     member accreditation organizations meet international standards for
     accreditation and have been deemed competent through a peer-
     review process. CPSC officials believe this approach provides
     additional transparency in the process. Although CPSC does not
     accredit labs itself, it maintains a list of approved labs by requiring
     labs to apply directly to CPSC and by verifying that different types of
     labs have been appropriately accredited.

Another approach that may help a program align its design with its
resources is to use contractors to supplement limited in-house staff. For
example, representatives from some of the private accreditation
organizations we interviewed, including some that conduct accreditation
activities for the federal agencies discussed above, said they use
individual contractors on an as-needed basis. This reduces the need for
full-time staff and helps to ensure that those individuals performing
accreditation activities possess the necessary expertise. These
organizations said that using contractors provides organizations with the
flexibility to quickly adjust staffing levels based on the amount of work,
and the particular accreditation work that needs to be performed. It also
allows them to retain appropriately skilled people to perform the
accreditation work. However, federal agencies’ use of private contractors
is subject to various requirements, which limit the type of functions that


37
   Among other requirements, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008
established a third-party safety testing requirement for children’s products (defined as
consumer products designed or intended primarily for children 12 years of age or younger)
and set deadlines for implementation. Pub. L. No. 110-341, § 102, 122 Stat. 3016, 3022.
Prior to the passage of this act, CPSC had never participated in lab accreditation
activities, according to officials.




Page 27                                           GAO-13-88 Product Testing Laboratories
                      may be performed by contractors and entail a commitment of time and
                      resources to meet. 38 In addition, an OSHA official told us that if the
                      agency were to rely on outside individuals, it would need to ensure their
                      competency and independence.


OSHA Lacks Clear      Clear guidance and communication with applicants can also serve to
Guidance and Timely   improve the timeliness of the accreditation process. Guidance that does
Communication with    not give applicants the information they need to submit an acceptable
                      application can delay approval. GAO’s internal control guidance states
Applicants            that program managers should ensure there are adequate means of
                      communicating with, and obtaining information and feedback from,
                      external stakeholders who may have a significant impact on the program
                      achieving its goals. 39 Not only do clear guidance and communication
                      contribute to timely processes, but they also serve to enhance the
                      transparency of programs and policies by explaining program criteria and
                      may increase trust and confidence among stakeholders. 40

                      OSHA’s current structure and workload have made it difficult to provide
                      clear guidance and timely communication to applicants. Most of the NRTL
                      applicants we interviewed stated that OSHA could enhance its guidance
                      and communication in order to improve the timeliness of the accreditation
                      process and to help make the accreditation process more transparent.
                      The directive on NRTL program policies and procedures has not been
                      revised since 1999, and OSHA has not updated its NRTL application
                      guidelines since 2000. A new director assumed responsibility for the
                      NRTL program in August 2012, and plans to focus on improving the
                      consistency and clarity of program procedures and guidance, but it is too
                      early to determine the timing and scope of such revisions. OSHA plans to
                      issue interim program guidance in the short-term while later updating
                      NRTL application guidelines and the directive on NRTL program policies
                      and procedures.




                      38
                        For example, federal agencies generally must follow the procedures delineated in the
                      Federal Acquisition Regulation. See, e.g., 48 C.F.R. § 7.5.
                      39
                        See GAO, Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government, AIMD-00-21.3.1
                      (Washington, D.C.: November 1999).
                      40
                         See GAO, Certification Requirements: New Guidance Should Encourage Transparency
                      in Agency Decisionmaking, GAO/GGD-99-170 (Washington, D.C.: September 1999).




                      Page 28                                          GAO-13-88 Product Testing Laboratories
                          We also found that OSHA had not adopted some of the measures to
                          disseminate information used by other accreditation organizations we
                          interviewed. For example, one of the accreditation organizations we
                          interviewed holds an annual meeting specifically to hear from clients, and
                          FCC hosts workshops twice a year where it shares program updates and
                          explains program requirements to stakeholders. OSHA, on the other
                          hand, occasionally speaks at trade association conferences and
                          participates in workshops sponsored by NIST, but it does not hold regular
                          meetings to update stakeholders and solicit feedback. An OSHA official
                          did say that about 2 years ago, he started to initiate phone calls with labs
                          interested in applying to the NRTL program to clarify the requirements for
                          applications, with the intention of minimizing the back and forth that takes
                          place during the application process. In his opinion, applicants have found
                          these calls useful.

                          Other accreditation organizations we interviewed have taken steps to
                          enhance guidance and communication with applicants, such as
                          developing systems to provide applicants with status updates and
                          information in “real time.” For example, two accreditation organizations
                          we interviewed maintain online portals that allow applicants to check on
                          the status of their applications throughout the various stages of the
                          application process. Furthermore, FCC manages a database for providing
                          information to stakeholders. This database provides answers to frequently
                          asked questions submitted by stakeholders and helps to ensure that FCC
                          is giving consistent advice and answers to questions. FCC officials also
                          said that input from stakeholders helps inform their guidance publications.


OSHA Does Not Currently   Our research on program management underscores the importance of
Track the Quality and     developing performance goals and measures to track progress and
Timeliness of Its         evaluate program performance. Developing a range of related
                          performance measures and balancing these measures to address quality,
Accreditation Process     timeliness, efficiency, cost of service, and outcomes also allows a
Using Performance         program to balance priorities among other demands and gives managers
Measures                  crucial information on which to base their organizational and management
                          decisions. 41 In addition, using data to understand time frames offers an




                          41
                            See GAO, Tax Administration: IRS Needs to Further Refine Its Tax Filing Season
                          Performance Measures, GAO-03-143 (Washington, D.C.: Nov. 22, 2002).




                          Page 29                                         GAO-13-88 Product Testing Laboratories
opportunity to identify potential inefficiencies and strategies for improving
timeliness.

OSHA developed performance measures for the NRTL program,
including measures for timeliness of the approval process. However, it
recently discontinued using these measures, because staff members’
workload increased to the point that it was impractical to achieve the
metrics established. Through informal monitoring of the time it takes to
approve accreditation applications, OSHA recognizes that its
accreditation process has been taking longer than expected, especially
for those applications with no major deficiencies or issues. OSHA officials
are hoping that their plans to hire additional staff will bring the NRTL
program closer to achieving their timeliness goals. It remains unclear,
however, whether planned hiring efforts will adequately address
timeliness issues or how OSHA plans to reinstitute its performance
measures. OSHA also collects some program data, but it does not
currently use the data to track timeliness or analyze trends. For example,
in response to one of the recommendations included in a 2005 report by
Labor’s Office of Inspector General, OSHA developed a contact log so
that the NRTL program could maintain a log of calls, e-mails, and related
details. 42 However, the contact log was developed primarily to document
that OSHA had responded to inquiries from NRTLs, not necessarily to
track the amount of time it took OSHA to respond. In the fall of 2012,
OSHA officials told us they began developing a more robust system to
track timeliness data and to address inefficiencies identified through the
data, but this initiative is in the early stages.

OSHA does not have performance measures to assess the quality and
timeliness of its accreditation process, although such measures have
been adopted by most of the accreditation organizations we contacted.
For example, one accreditation organization had target dates in place for
each phase of its application process and tracked its performance in
relation to the targets. Another accreditation organization with
performance measures in place also had a corrective action system in
place to review troubling data, identify the root cause of any problems,
and implement solutions. This accreditation organization also measured
customer satisfaction.


42
  U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Inspector General, Office of Audit. Occupational
Safety and Health Administration: OSHA Correctly Denied ED&D’s Incomplete NRTL
Application, March 31, 2005. Report Number: 05-05-002-10-001.




Page 30                                           GAO-13-88 Product Testing Laboratories
                     The NRTL program provides an important mechanism for protecting
Conclusions          workers’ safety. However, if not addressed, the lengthy accreditation
                     application processing and approval times resulting from the current
                     scope of staff responsibilities and unclear guidance about the process will
                     continue to have negative impacts on labs’ business operations and
                     OSHA’s ability to conduct other oversight activities. Much has changed in
                     the world of laboratory accreditation since the NRTL process was
                     designed in 1988; for example, NIST issued guidance intended to reduce
                     duplication and improve efficiency, in accordance with the National
                     Technology Transfer and Advancement Act of 1995, and some federal
                     agencies have used new approaches to accreditation to administer lab
                     accreditation programs. This includes increasing use of new approaches
                     for efficiently and effectively using resources and harnessing the
                     expertise of other organizations, while retaining key oversight
                     responsibilities within the federal government. While OSHA plans to take
                     some actions to improve timeliness, it is too early to determine the extent
                     of these actions and it is uncertain whether any incremental changes will
                     be sufficient to fully address the program’s challenges. Without thinking
                     strategically about the program as a whole, the agency may be missing
                     opportunities to implement more comprehensive strategies for improving
                     timeliness, such as modifying its program structure in a manner that
                     better serves its mission and capitalizes on the expertise of agency staff
                     and external resources. Even if some of these strategies require initial
                     time investments, thinking strategically about the program’s structure can
                     ultimately reap time savings and ensure that procedures and staff
                     responsibilities are targeted in a way that optimizes the program’s
                     effectiveness in addressing workplace safety.


                     To improve the timeliness of the NRTL accreditation process, we
Recommendation for   recommend that the Secretary of Labor direct the Assistant Secretary for
Executive Action     Occupational Safety and Health to:

                     Review the NRTL program’s structure and accreditation application
                     procedures to identify and implement any alternatives that better align
                     program design with resource levels and improve program timeliness
                     while remaining consistent with the agency’s mission. This review should
                     draw upon the expertise of NIST or other organizations that provide
                     guidance on developing effective and efficient accreditation schemes. It
                     should include:

                     1. Identifying and evaluating the risks, costs, and benefits of various
                        structural approaches for making accreditation decisions in terms of


                     Page 31                                   GAO-13-88 Product Testing Laboratories
                      both timeliness and effectiveness in achieving OSHA’s mission.
                      Approaches could include using an external accrediting organization
                      to implement some or all of the lab accreditation duties, using
                      contractors to support in-house portions of the accreditation process,
                      or separating testing from certification accreditation activities.
                  2. Reviewing OSHA’s current regulations and procedures to identify
                     areas where increased alignment with international standards on
                     accreditation may result in time savings without impairing the
                     agency’s mission to protect workers’ safety and health. This could
                     include analyzing the risks, costs, and benefits to effectiveness
                     involved in making any program modifications or changes to existing
                     regulations.
                  3. Ensuring that all lab accreditation decisions are reviewed by an
                     independent technical reviewer in order to better align the
                     accreditation decision process with internal controls principles for
                     separating key duties and international standards on making
                     accreditation decisions. OSHA should evaluate options for achieving
                     independent review based in part on their effects on process duration.
                  4. Improving overall program guidance and transparency to help prevent
                     delays in the approval process.
                  5. Establishing program goals and performance measures, including
                     timeliness goals for the approval of accreditation applications, and
                     analyzing resulting performance measurement data to identify
                     potential inefficiencies in the application process.


                      We provided a draft of this report to Labor for its review and comment.
Agency Comments       Labor’s Assistant Secretary for OSHA provided written comments,
                      which are reproduced in appendix II. Labor agreed with our
                      recommendations and described its plans to implement them, citing a
                      commitment to use the most efficient and effective strategies in the
                      NRTL program. For example, Labor states that it is assessing the
                      NRTL program against alternative approaches used by other testing
                      laboratory accrediting organizations and that it is coordinating with
                      outside agencies, including the National Institute of Standards and
                      Technology, to seek ways in which the NRTL program can improve its
                      processes. In response to our recommendation to improve program
                      guidance and transparency, Labor stated that it plans to develop and
                      issue policy guidance on NRTL program requirements to ensure the
                      program is administered consistently, and it plans to actively engage
                      NRTL stakeholders in the policy-development process. In addition,
                      Labor intends to use performance measures for processing



                  Page 32                                   GAO-13-88 Product Testing Laboratories
    applications and to explore the development of a web-based customer
    service site where NRTLs could check the status of their applications
    throughout the review process.


We are sending copies of this report to the appropriate congressional
committees and the Secretary of Labor. In addition, the report is available
at no charge on GAO’s website at http://www.gao.gov.

If you or your staff have any questions about this report, please contact
me at (202) 512-7215 or moranr@gao.gov. Contact points for our Offices
of Congressional Relations and Public Affairs may be found on the last
page of this report. GAO staff who made major contributions to this report
are listed in appendix III.




Revae Moran
Director, Education, Workforce,
and Income Security Issues




Page 33                                   GAO-13-88 Product Testing Laboratories
Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
              Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
              Methodology



Methodology

              This study’s objective was to answer the following questions about the
              Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Nationally
              Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL) program: (1) How long does it
              take to make accreditation decisions and what are the key factors that
              affect timeliness? and (2) To what extent has OSHA adopted commonly
              used strategies for improving timeliness? To address these research
              questions, we used a variety of methods including: analysis of OSHA’s
              data on recently processed accreditation applications; reviews of relevant
              federal laws, regulations, and OSHA publications on the NRTL program;
              interviews with key program stakeholders including OSHA officials, eight
              NRTL program applicants, and other public and private organizations,
              including non-profits, that accredit safety labs for other programs or
              purposes; a review and synthesis of findings from various sources,
              including GAO reports, international standards, guidance on
              accreditation, and materials from other federal agencies to identify
              promising strategies for improving the timeliness of accreditation
              decisions; and interviews with officials from selected federal agencies
              about their accreditation processes and practices.

              To determine how long it took OSHA to approve accreditation
              applications between June 2007 and June 2012—as well as how many
              applications were pending during that time— we analyzed Federal
              Register notices and information from an internal OSHA database that
              included key application dates, such as application submission and final
              accreditation decision dates. We analyzed timing data on all initial,
              expansion, and renewal decisions that were approved between June 11,
              2007 and June 11, 2012. We also reviewed timing information for all
              applications that are currently pending. We selected this date range to
              ensure that our analysis included decisions for each of the three types of
              applications, reflected OSHA’s most recent time frames and processes,
              and included decisions made under two administrations. After
              interviewing OSHA officials and comparing Federal Register notices that
              identify key application dates for approved applications to separately
              generated data from OSHA’s internal database, we determined that the
              data on application submission dates and final decision dates were
              sufficiently reliable for our purposes. Our analysis focused primarily on
              application submission dates and final decision dates because the
              available data in OSHA’s database for intermediary stages of the review
              process were less reliable.




              Page 34                                   GAO-13-88 Product Testing Laboratories
Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
Methodology




We used the following criteria to assess the length of OSHA’s
accreditation process:

•   for completed applications, duration of the accreditation application
    and approval process relative to duration of the accreditation itself (5
    years);
•   for pending applications, existence and duration of application
    backlogs;
•   stakeholders’ views; and
•   OSHA’s view on desirable time frames for accreditation reviews.

To gather more information about the amount of time that initial
applications were with applicants for revisions versus with OSHA during
the accreditation review, we also reviewed the application files for the
three initial applications processed by OSHA between June 2007 and
June 2012. Two of these applications were approved by OSHA and one
was withdrawn by the applicant after the initial review and revision stages
of the process.

To further understand the accreditation process and factors that might
affect its timing, we interviewed OSHA officials and reviewed relevant
federal laws, regulations, and NRTL program documents. We also
interviewed eight NRTL applicants who represented a mix of initial,
expansion, and/or renewal accreditation applications that have been
pending, approved, or otherwise closed since June 2007. We selected
labs so that our review would include the perspectives of applicants at
different points in the decision-making process and with a variety of initial,
expansion, and renewal applications. We also chose labs that
represented a variety of sizes, as measured by the number of approved
NRTL testing sites. In addition, we interviewed other stakeholders
including a manufacturing organization and an employer organization to
obtain information about any effects the duration of the NRTL
accreditation process may have had on these sectors.

To identify promising practices for improving timeliness, we reviewed and
synthesized findings from relevant GAO reports, 1 international standards



1
 See, for example, GAO, Streamlining Government: Opportunities Exist to Strengthen
OMB’s Approach to Improving Efficiency, GAO-10-394 (Washington, D.C.: May 7, 2010)
and GAO, Strategic Budgeting: Risk Management Principles Can Help DHS Allocate
Resources to Highest Priorities, GAO-05-824T (Washington, D.C.: June 29, 2005).




Page 35                                        GAO-13-88 Product Testing Laboratories
Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
Methodology




and guidance on accreditation, 2 and materials from federal organizations
such as the Office of Management and Budget, 3 the National Institute of
Standards and Technology (NIST), 4 and the National Research Council. 5
We identified these sources through literature searches and discussions
with stakeholders and individuals who are knowledgeable about
management practices that could improve timeliness. We compared the
strategies we identified with OSHA’s current and planned actions to
improve timeliness, as identified through interviews and relevant
documentation. We also identified promising practices for improving the
timeliness of the NRTL accreditation process by soliciting suggestions
from the eight NRTL applicants that we interviewed.

We also interviewed officials and reviewed relevant documents from
seven public and private accreditation programs and organizations,
including non-profit organizations, as well as two consortiums of
accreditation organizations, to identify promising timeliness practices
used by others. No other accreditation process is completely comparable
to OSHA’s given differences in scope or mission. However, the
experiences of other programs and organizations provide illustrative
examples of actions that agencies have taken to adapt to their own
unique missions and circumstances. After compiling an extensive list of
accreditation programs and organizations, we ultimately selected
organizations to review in more detail based on the following:
recommendations from NRTL program stakeholders, those programs we
identified as using one or more of the promising strategies for improving
timeliness included in our report, or those programs that are similar to
OSHA’s program in terms of mission or scope. We interviewed officials
from four federal agencies with lab accreditation programs: the Consumer
Product Safety Commission Conformity Assessment Body Recognition



2
 See, for example, International Standard, ISO/IEC 17011: Conformity assessment –
General requirements for accreditation organizations accrediting conformity assessment
organizations, ISO 2004.
3
  Office of Management and Budget Circular A-119: Federal Participation in the
Development and Use of Voluntary Consensus Standards and in Conformity Assessment
Activities, 63 Fed. Reg. 8546 (Feb. 19, 1998).
4
  NIST’s Guidance on Federal Conformity Assessment Activities, 65 Fed. Reg. 48,894
(Aug. 10, 2000), codified at 15 C.F.R. pt. 287.
5                                                                            st
 See, for example, Standards, Conformity Assessment, and Trade: Into the 21 Century,
National Research Council, National Academy Press (Washington, D.C.: 1995).




Page 36                                          GAO-13-88 Product Testing Laboratories
Appendix I: Objectives, Scope, and
Methodology




Program; the Federal Communications Commission Equipment
Authorization Program; the Department of Health and Human Services
Health Information Technology Certification Program; and the NIST
National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program. In addition to
speaking with officials from these four federal accreditation programs, we
also interviewed representatives from three accreditation organizations
outside the U.S. federal government: the American Association for
Laboratory Accreditation, Standards Council of Canada, and the
American National Standards Institute. Finally, we spoke with
representatives from two consortiums of accreditation organizations: the
International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation and the National
Cooperation for Laboratory Accreditation.




Page 37                                   GAO-13-88 Product Testing Laboratories
Appendix II: Comments from the Department
             Appendix II: Comments from the Department
             of Labor



of Labor




             Page 38                                     GAO-13-88 Product Testing Laboratories
Appendix II: Comments from the Department
of Labor




Page 39                                     GAO-13-88 Product Testing Laboratories
Appendix III: GAO Contact and Staff
                  Appendix III: GAO Contact and Staff
                  Acknowledgments



Acknowledgments

                  Revae Moran, Director, (202) 512-7215 or moranr@gao.gov
GAO Contact
                  In addition to the contact named above, Betty Ward-Zukerman, Assistant
Staff             Director; Elizabeth Dobrenz, Meredith Moore, Maria Stattel, and Barbara
Acknowledgments   Steel-Lowney made significant contributions to all phases of the work.
                  Also contributing to this report were James Bennett, Sarah Cornetto,
                  Elizabeth Curda, Debra Johnson, Kathy Leslie, Jean McSween, Cathy
                  Roark, Daren Sweeney, and Kate van Gelder.




(131167)
                  Page 40                                 GAO-13-88 Product Testing Laboratories
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