President’s Message – September 2015

Source:  Victor W. Weedn, MD, JD, 2015-16 President

The Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF) has awarded $1.5M to the Academy to establish a Standards Development Organization (SDO). I believe that this is strategic for our organization’s future and critical to our forensic science community now.

Although forensic medicine and toxicology have origins from many centuries ago, many would date the rise of forensic science to the 1893 treatise of Hans Gross. Forensic science became a widely-recognized profession in the 20th century and the forensic science community generally organized over the latter half of the century. It is no coincidence that the Academy was formed in 1948. The beginnings of national and international forensic standards began development only in the last quarter century (e.g., TWGDAM formed in 1988).

The 2009 National Research Council (NRC) Report, Strengthening Forensic Science: A Path Forward was critical of the forensic science community and emphasized the need for improving quality assurances, including continued standards-setting and enforcement. They wrote:

…Standards and best practices create a professional environment that allows organizations and professions to create quality systems, policies, and procedures and maintain autonomy from vested interest groups. Standards ensure desirable characteristics of services and techniques such as quality, reliability, efficiency, and consistency among practitioners. Typically standards are enforced through systems of accreditation and certification, wherein independent examiners and auditors test and audit the performance, policies, and procedures of both laboratories and service providers.

In the first quarter of the 21st century, we will witness the widespread promulgation, adoption, and enforcement of recognized standards and, I think likely also, the true regulation of our profession. To date in the United States, forensic standards development has culminated in the currently on-going National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Organization of Scientific Area Committees for Forensic Science (OSAC) effort which began in 2014. NIST has ensured the significant involvement of the forensic science community in this process.

The NIST OSAC now has 24 subcommittees that will be reviewing existing standards and developing new standards that, if endorsed by the Scientific Area Committee (SAC), will require vetting. The NIST Quality Infrastructure Committee (QIC), chaired by Karen Reczek, is nailing down the process for that vetting. However, we do understand that the process will either be an in-house canvassing method or, preferably, through an external Standards Development Organization.

Currently, existing relevant U.S. SDOs include the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) and the American Dental Association–there may be others. We intend that the Academy exert some leadership and step in as another option for the OSAC to vet the putative standards. In this way, we will support the OSAC effort by offering an SDO option when other relevant SDOs are not available and where the OSAC committees see us as a valuable alternative. The result is that the Academy can further involve the larger forensic science community in the standards setting process.

Regardless of which SDO or canvass option is used to review the OSAC documents, the process will be expected to adhere to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Essential Requirements for due process that include: openness, lack of dominance, balance, coordination and harmonization, notification of standards development, consideration of views and objections, consensus vote, appellate process, written procedures, and compliance with normative ANSI policies and administrative procedures.

The Academy will become an ANSI-accredited SDO, referred to as an ANSI Standards Developer (ASD) and, further, we intend that our products will become American National Standards (ANSs).

The OSAC is now poised to begin to send out putative standards to SDOs. The Academy cannot afford to move slowly and carefully. We must forge ahead briskly, but clearly we are in a steep learning curve. We intend to accept putative standards offerings by this-coming Las Vegas annual meeting in February of 2016.

I have appointed an Ad Hoc SDO Committee, chaired by Lucy Davis and including Ken Ascheim, Sue Ballou, Dave Fowler, Matt Gamette, Jennifer Limoges, Chris Plourd, and Walter Rowe, as an advisory body overseeing the effort.

We have contracted for the services of Mary McKiel, the former Standards Executive with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to help us to develop an appropriate process for us and to navigate the ANSI applications process. We are currently seeking Academy staff for this effort.

The LJAF funds will fund us for four years on the condition that we make our standards available to all without cost.

The SDO Committee will give an Academy address on this subject during our Las Vegas Annual Meeting. I hope that you are interested and will come and learn more about this important effort.