Update on Standards Development Activities and Engagement

Source: ASB Sustainability ad hoc Committee: Sarah Kerrigan, PhD; Jeri Ropero Miller, PhD (Chair); Lucy A. Davis, BHS; Laura C. Fulginiti, PhD; Jennifer C. Love, PhD; Julie A. Howe, MBA: Jennifer F. Limoges, MS; Christopher (Kip) R. Thompson, MD; C. Kenneth (Ken) Williams, MS, JD

The American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) founded the first American National Standards Institute (ANSI) -accredited Standards Developing Organization (SDO) dedicated to the forensic sciences. In doing so, the Academy Standards Board (ASB) joined the ranks of other accredited and non-accredited SDOs that develop scientifically sound consensus-based standards applicable to forensic science (e.g., the American Society for Testing and Materials [ASTM] International, National Fire Protection Association [NFPA]), American Dental Association [ADA]), and Audio Engineering Society ([AES])). While some operate almost exclusively within the standard-setting environment (e.g., ASTM International), some (like AAFS) operate standards development activities as part of a larger professional organization (e.g., ADA, NFPA). Many develop standards in numerous areas, not just those related to forensic science.

The Organization of Scientific Area Committees (OSAC) was created in 2014 to address the lack of discipline-specific forensic science standards nationally. Working in partnership, the 22 discipline-specific subcommittees work to draft documents that are ultimately published by SDOs operating in the forensic space. As of December 2021, there were:

  • 77 standards on the OSAC Registry
  • Over 80 SDO-published standards eligible for OSAC Registry consideration
  • Over 120 OSAC-drafted documents progressing through the development process at SDOs
  • Over 160 documents being drafted within OSAC

Due to these notable efforts, multiple SDOs are needed to handle the volume and scope of documents being produced. For example, ASTM Committee E30 on Forensic Science, which was established in 1970, has 68 current standards in criminalistics, interdisciplinary, and digital/multimedia evidence. The ASB, established in 2015, has published 75 standards and best practice documents to date, covering 13 forensic disciplines ranging from anthropology to wildlife forensics.

The AAFS has continued to affirm its support for standards development activities over the years. In October 2017, a statement from the AAFS Board of Directors acknowledged the leadership and work of the OSAC, the role of the ASB, and importantly, the individual efforts of AAFS members in standards development activities. The latter was echoed November 2020 President’s Editorial in the Journal of Forensic Sciences and confirmed in a June 2020 survey to AAFS members to solicit feedback on standards development activities across the 11sections of the Academy. The 2020 Standards Survey indicated that among respondents:

  • 89% were aware that consensus-based standards were being developed in their discipline
  • 43% were/or had been involved in standards development activities
  • Overall, 95% supported the development of consensus-based standards in forensic science
  • Support for standards-development activities was >80% across all disciplines (sections of the Academy)

These findings were shared with the membership during a Special Session entitled “Implementation of Forensic Science Standards in an Operational Setting: Challenges and Solutions” at the 73rd Annual Meeting in February 2021. Additionally, the survey data showed that:

  • Responses were received from every Section of the Academy
  • By membership status, the vast majority of members engaged in standards development activities were either Fellows (44%) or Members (33%)
  • Support for standards-development activities was >90% (93-100%) across all levels of membership (Student Affiliates to Retired Fellows)
  • Of respondents engaged in standards development activities, (31%) were involved in OSAC, followed by Scientific Working Groups (SWGS) (22%) and ASB (21%); 15% were involved in other SDOs (including ASTM International and International Organization for Standardization [ISO], etc.)
  • 68% of survey respondents had read or accessed standards published by the ASB
  • By membership status, access/use of ASB standards was highest among Fellows (73%), Members (70%), Associate Members (70%), and Retired Fellows (52%)
  • With the exception of ISO/IEC 17025 and 17020 required for accreditation, 78% of respondents planned to implement, or had already implemented, consensus-based standards (regardless of the SDO)

AAFS support to provide accessible, high-quality consensus-based standards for the forensic sciences continues. In April 2021, President Carl R. McClary acknowledged the critically important work being undertaken to advance the development of consensus-based standards. In December 2021, the Academy announced a cooperative agreement between AAFS and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The agreement provides funds to the AAFS to develop training, tools, and resources to enhance implementation efforts and broaden awareness of forensic science standards among communities of interest. Under the cooperative agreement, these resources will be made available to members and the public at no charge. These tools and resources will be available to enhance awareness and implementation of OSAC Registry standards across multiple SDOs, not just ASB.

Accessibility of standards is key. It is for this reason that many SDOs make their forensic standards and best practices available at no cost (either downloadable or for online e-viewing). ASB standards have been publicly available at no cost from the outset due to an initial four-year grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF/Arnold Ventures). In 2019, the LJAF was the recipient of the AAFS Ambassador of Forensic Science Award, in recognition of its efforts to advance the recognition of forensic science in the pursuit of justice.

Consensus-based standards in forensic science help safeguard justice, integrity, and fairness within the criminal justice system as recommended that standards be freely available to any party in the 2016 PCAST Report: Forensic Science in Criminal Courts: Ensuring Scientific Validity of Feature-Comparison Methods. For this reason, SDOs operating in the forensic space recognize the need to make their standards publicly available at no charge. The desire of the forensic science and legal community to make these standards freely available is echoed by Congress. This is evidenced by authorization language in S. 1260 (United States Innovation and Competition Act), which would authorize $2M annually for a competitive grant program that would allow ANSI-accredited non-governmental standards developing organizations to “develop, approve, disseminate, maintain, and review forensic science voluntary consensus standards and best practices that shall be available to the public free of charge.

Consistent with its vision, mission, and values, the AAFS and its individual members continue to advance the profession by supporting consensus-based standards across the forensic disciplines.