Author(s): Gregory Cade. Published on November 1, 2016.

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Prepping an incoming administration on the importance of up-to-date codes and standards


IN THE FALL OF 2006, I received a call from the White House, the first step of what would become a nine-month nomination and Senate confirmation process that ultimately led to my becoming Administrator of the U.S. Fire Administration.

Just as I was tapped a decade ago, this fall the newly elected U.S. president will begin the process of making upwards of 7,000 appointments to numerous governmental agencies, commissions, and advisory boards. Media coverage will focus primarily on the major appointments, such as the Cabinet-level posts, but lower-level positions are critical to providing crucial day-to-day oversight and implementation of the new administration’s agenda. Just as mine did, each of these nominations will go through some form of confirmation process. This transition period presents an excellent opportunity for NFPA to stress to incoming government officials the importance of updating the Code of Federal Regulations to include the most up-to-date versions of NFPA’s codes and standards.

The Code of Federal Regulations, which is used by at least 28 executive branch agencies, includes hundreds of references to NFPA codes and standards. In some cases, however, it references outdated versions of our codes, which creates confusion for businesses and enforcement agencies at the federal, state, and local levels. Among other pitfalls, outdated codes may not include rules on new advancements or technologies, leaving federal and state regulators without guidance. While it’s true that updating the Code of Federal Regulations may not be the highest priority for the new administration, NFPA’s Government Affairs Division is working hard to get it on everyone’s radar. One of the best ways to do that is through the confirmation process.

The various Senate and House committees that oversee each federal agency are tasked with holding these hearings. The questions they ask require potential appointees to consider a wide range of issues and can sometimes force them to take a position. Asking potential appointees questions such as, “How do you think updating to the latest codes and standards will expedite realization of the new administration’s goals?” gets appointees on the record and helps lay the groundwork for action when the person takes office. Later, we can use the nominee’s formal support to help agency staff prepare the necessary information to update the codes and standards.

To move forward with this goal, NFPA’s Government Affairs Division has been in contact with Senate committee staff members in recent weeks to stress the importance of asking appointees about updating to current NFPA codes and standards. We are suggesting questions that the committees could ask of potential appointees at hearings and are explaining to staffers why outdated codes and standards could get in the way of the new administration’s efforts to achieve its goals.

During my confirmation process back in 2006, Senate staff asked me a lot of questions that got me thinking hard about issues pertaining to the fire service. One of those questions was if I would commit to upgrading the National Fire Incident Reporting System to a web-based, searchable, real-time fire data system. The next year, as U.S. Fire Administrator, I got the money in the budget to begin the upgrade.

This is the kind of change that can come about if we ask the right questions early in the process. I believe that taking a proactive stance when it comes to safety is the most effective method to accomplish NFPA’s goals. By the time the next president takes the oath of office, NFPA will have already reminded the incoming administration to keep that proactive lesson in mind when considering the nation’s safety.

GREGORY B. CADE is division director of government affairs for NFPA.