Policy Page – January 2016

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the articles contained in the Academy News are those of the identified authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Academy.


Source: Victor Weedn, MD, JD, AAFS 2015-16 President

It seems that frustration has been growing within Washington circles about the lack of forensic science reform. Simultaneously, in the wake of more police shootings, there has been increasing consensus for a need for criminal justice reform that may subsume forensic science reform. Regardless, this year the Democrats and Republicans and Senators and House Representatives are talking. Senators Leahy and Cornyn are still very active and new players include Senators Peters, Blumenthal, Hatch, and Cruz; Senator Rockefeller is out; several House representatives and committee staffers are also involved. We expect a bill from Judiciary on forensic science reform that will create an Office of Forensic Science within the Department Of Justice (DOJ). We expect that accreditation and certification of forensic science service providers will be mandated. We have lobbied to keep the Organization of Scientific Area Committees (OSACs) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and this seems likely. Another bill from the Committee on Science, Commerce & Transportation will likely cover research. This is an area that the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s (OSTP’s) President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) is involving themselves in at the moment. We have worked with Senator Hatch’s office on the Rapid DNA legislation which seems likely to pass. It also appears that the Coverdell Act will likely be reauthorized and appropriated.

NCFS Committee Report:

Source: Dean M. Gialamas, MS, AAFS NCFS Committee Chair

The National Commission on Forensic Science (NCFS) held its eighth meeting on December 7-8, in Washington, DC, and is scheduled to meet for its ninth meeting on March 21-22, 2016. The Commission is still moving forward with accomplishments, having 42 documents in some state of work with 15 documents approved by the Commission. The work products have focused on foundation, operational, and application-related issues.

Some highlights from the last meeting include:

CO-CHAIR COMMENTS: Deputy Attorney General (DAG) Yates announced the completed review of six work products. Some work products were approved and others were not and were being sent back with comments. There was some disappointment by Commissioners on the DAG not sharing the comments with Commissioners prior to the meeting. There was also disappointment with the lack of support for the Medicolegal Death Investigation work products. DAG Yates also briefed the Commission on the status of their endorsement of mandatory accreditation by 2020. (You can find the press release here: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-announces-new-accreditation-policies-advance-forensic-science.) This announcement was a huge step for the Commission and a bold statement by the Department of Justice in supporting the efforts of the Commission.

COMMISSION BUSINESS: The NCFS Subcommittee on Procedures and Operations (SPO) presented additional work on by-laws amendments since the last meeting. The changes were not voted upon due to some clerical errors in the draft document. Templates of the reports from subcommittees were introduced and will be used for keeping records of subcommittee activities. Future meetings will use electronic binders and they will be held at the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) offices again.

There was a strategy session held on the second day to discuss next steps for the Commission. Each subcommittee was asked to prioritize their work so the Commission can spend more time on topics and issues that are determined a high priority at each meeting. Documents will also be submitted with tracked changes so Commissioners and the public know how the documents have changed.


Reporting and Testimony Subcommittee Report

Final Document PASSED by Vote: Views Document on Report Content

  • Re-introduction of Draft Work Product Open for Public Comment: Views Document on using the term “Reasonable Degree of Scientific Certainty”
  • Status Reports: Abstract on Access of Indigents to Defense Experts; Abstract on Notice and Demand Rules; Abstract on Judicial Vouching for Expert Witnesses

Scientific Inquiry and Research Subcommittee Report

  • Introduction of Draft Work Products Open for Public Comment: Views Document on Establishing the Foundational Literature within the Forensic Science Disciplines; Post-Doctoral Projects to Facilitate Translation of Research into Forensic Science Practice

Interim Solutions Subcommittee Report

  • Introduction of Draft Work Products Open for Public Comment: Views document on a National Code of Professional Responsibility (re-introduction); Recommendation on Accessibility of Quality Management System Documents

Human Factors Subcommittee Report

  • Final Document PASSED by Vote: Views document on Ensuring that Forensic Analysis is Based Upon Task-Relevant Information

Training on Science and Law Subcommittee Report

  • Final Document PASSED by Vote: National Forensic Science Curriculum
  • Status Report: Abstract on Assessment Tools; Abstract on Notification

Accreditation and Proficiency Testing Subcommittee Report

  • Introduction of Draft Work Product Open for Public Comment: Views Document on Proficiency Testing in Forensic Science; Views Document on Critical Steps to Accreditation
  • Status Reports: Abstract on Uniform Policy and Procedures for Accreditation Programs

The next Commission Meeting dates have been set, and they are:

  • March 21-22, 2016
  • June 20-21, 2016
  • September 12-13, 2016
  • January 9-10, 2017
  • April 10-11, 2017

To stay up to date on the activities and work products of the Commission, members are encouraged to visit www.justice.gov/ncfs.

OSAC Committee Report:

Source: Barry K. Logan, PhD, AAFS NIST SAC Ad Hoc Committee Chair and AAFS Representative to the FSSB

Update for AAFS Membership on Activities with the NIST Organization of Scientific Area Committees (OSAC) and the Forensic Science Standards Board (FSSB)

The FSSB of the OSAC met at the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Testing Laboratory in Dulles VA, on December 3-4. At the one-year point since the OSAC began its journey, it was a pleasure to look back with our colleagues, most of whom are AAFS members, at our accomplishments in this first year. One of the highlights of the meeting was the FSSB’s approval of the creation of a 25th subcommittee for the development of crime scene standards. Appointments will be made to this new subcommittee within the next few weeks from individuals who have registered their interest with NIST. If you want to be considered for these or future opportunities within the OSAC, please visit NIST’s website at: https://www.nist.gov/forensics/osac-application.cfm.

Details of the first standards to be moved forward for the proposed registry of forensic science standards were made public in August of this year. Drafts of proposed standards are published for public comment on the NIST OSAC Kavi page (https://workspace.forensicosac.org/kws/public). Please check in periodically for updates on the progress being made and to provide your own comment and input of proposed standards within your discipline. The site also provides further detail on the OSAC organization and its structure.

The FSSB is still providing further detail and helping with the interpretation of the operating rules and fine-tuning the terms of reference for the various committees, subcommittees, and task groups. As the discipline-specific subcommittees have begun the process of forwarding proposed standards through the process for feedback from the human factors, legal resources, and quality infrastructure committees, the FSSB has been asked to provide guidance on that process and to better define the roles of the resource committees. The FSSB very much views the resource committees to be part of the team involved in developing and providing diverse perspectives as standards are developed and in discussions at the FSSB meeting; the resource committees’ role has been clarified to emphasize this important function.

The underlying tenants of the standards development process considers diversity of input, balance of interests, openness, and transparency, but it is also a consensus process, which by its definition means that the parties and their diverse interests work together to try to reach agreement where there are differences of opinion. This involves compromise and good faith effort, with give-and-take and respect of each other’s opinions, but always with a view to protecting the integrity of the final product standards and guidelines. The FSSB was recently asked to determine what happens when individuals or groups within the OSAC are still at an impasse after observing the above deliberative process, all of which takes place in the internal business environment of the OSAC. The guidance, which will be reflected in the terms of reference for the organization and its committees, is that just like members of the public, OSAC members may freely comment as individuals during the public comment period, and any outstanding concerns they have which they feel were not addressed at the committee level will become part of the public record of the standard or guidelines development and will be addressed by the SAC in just the same way as any other comment received.

This approach allows for candid professional debate and negotiation within the organization, but also allows for transparency and documentation of any issues individual members feel were unresolved by that process.

Details of this and further evolution of the OSAC structure and rules will be discussed at the upcoming all-OSAC meeting in Leesburg, VA, in January 2016, where the OSAC committees, resource committees, technical sub-committees, and the FSSB will all meet to review our progress and to continue with the detailed work of developing standards and guidelines for review by Standards Development Organizations (SDOs). The OSAC and FSSB members were delighted to learn about the Academy’s new SDO process and welcome the AAFS taking an active leadership role in this critical initiative.

At the AAFS meeting in Las Vegas, there will be several venues for the AAFS membership to learn more about the OSAC organization and its activity. Public meetings of the OSAC Scientific Area Committees with updates on their progress will be held on Monday and Tuesday (February 22 and 23) in the Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino and are free and open to the public. On Tuesday evening, February 23, following the Welcoming Reception, the AAFS SDO committee will provide a review of their new process to the entire AAFS membership in an open and free session. On the morning of Wednesday, February 24, there is a brief primer and introduction on the roles and responsibilities of the various committees and subcommittees within the organization, which is being offered as a Breakfast Session (#3). If you are looking for a quick way to get caught up with the organization and how it works and don’t have time during the busy week to attend the Monday and Tuesday reviews, this is a great way to quickly get up to speed on the OSAC organization and its goals.