Let me take you on a journey through the densely nuanced language of PMI's statement on Universal Conformity Assessment and tell you what I think they're really saying.

Oh, nobody at the Plumbing Manufacturers Institute will put it in such stark, angry terms. Diplomacy reigns supreme with the stakes and the players being what they are. But I'm not so constrained. Let me take you on a journey through the densely nuanced language of PMI's statement on Universal Conformity Assessment, which was released to the press March 21, and tell you what I think they're really saying.

PMI says: "Universal Conformity Assessment - a concept whereby plumbing products would be tested once and recognized worldwide - is one of the chief focus issues on the radar screen of the Plumbing Manufacturers Institute. Meetings hosted by PMI to bring certifiers together on the issue have been well attended, but progress has been slow. Lack of harmonization between ANSI-accredited organizations results in unnecessary and redundant product testing, which in turn adds costs to manufacturers and ultimately end-users, and delays the process of getting innovative new products to market."

My interpretation: Third-party certification is little more than a legalized protection racket. Too many gangs have gotten in on the action, and street taxes are getting out of hand.

PMI says: "In response to the slow progress, PMI has announced the formation of an ad hoc task group to study the feasibility of becoming a third-party certifier. The ad hoc task group was formed at PMI's 2001 Spring Meeting (March 4-7) and charged with investigating the pros and cons of establishing an alternative, new organization with the potential to be a significant competitor in the third-party certifier market. The investigation will include issues such as organizational and Board of Directors structure, certification program costs to clients, and a pro forma business plan."

My interpretation: Third-party certifiers have little incentive to cooperate with one another as long as each has its own stamp revenues to protect. They are going through the motions of listening to us, but it doesn't appear anything will ever come of it. It's time for drastic action.

PMI says: "While the feasibility study is underway, PMI will continue to work diligently with current third-party certifiers to eliminate redundancies. PMI, through its Universal Conformity Assessment Issue Committee, has created a Plumbing Products Approval Process model which has been approved by the National Conference of States on Building Codes and Standards, Inc., and is now used by the State of Oregon. The Approval Process model has been structured to achieve the PMI objective of a conformity assessment infrastructure that allows plumbing products to be tested and certified once, but recognized throughout the United States and Canada. PMI has been working, and will continue to work, with current third-party certifiers to achieve this objective, thus taking advantage of existing recognized programs."

My interpretation: In case anyone thinks we're bluffing, we have a game plan in place that gives us a fighting chance to break free of the tyranny from third-party certification. Don't underestimate our determination.

PMI says: "Manufacturers are continuously pressured by wholesale and retail customers to reduce supply chain costs which do not add value. The duplicative costs and time delays caused by an inefficient product certification system need to be eliminated," according to Craig Selover, vice president of engineering at Delta Faucet Company. He adds, "It is also important that certification programs are rigorously enforced. Those that invest in developing good manufacturing process control are not rewarded for producing consistent quality under current certification programs. We would like to see the follow-up audit/inspection programs improved."

My interpretation: If you're going to squeeze us till it hurts, at least provide the protection services you purport to give under your stamp of approval. Some certification stamps signify little beyond collection of fees.

PMI says: "To be effective, the new PMI-based organization would need to operate independently and bring to certification activities a new level of auditing of laboratories which would conduct the materials and product performance testing, and auditing of clients' products and manufacturing processes to ensure ongoing compliance."

My interpretation: We know there will be skepticism about an industry policing itself. But we understand what is required to do it right.