Written by Rich
LATE LAST YEAR, the Houston Forensic Science Center (HFSC) became the third
crime laboratory to voluntarily adopt standards approved by the Organization of
Scientific Area Committees for Forensic Science (OSAC). Those standards define
minimum requirements, best practices, scientific protocols, and other guidance
to help ensure that the results of forensic analysis are reliable and
Peter Stout, CEO and president of HFSC, said that he and
his staff strive to constantly improve the quality of services they provide to
Houstonians. “Adopting these standards, the result of years of work by the
nation’s top forensic scientists, is the logical next step.”
HFSC joins two other laboratories that had already taken
this step. In 2016, the Kentucky State Police Central Forensics Laboratory drug
chemistry section voluntarily adopted all applicable OSAC-approved standards. Also
in 2016, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Division of Forensic Sciences
adopted into their laboratory quality manual all OSAC standards that are
applicable to analyses they perform.
OSAC, which is administered by the National Institute of
Standards and Technology (NIST), works to strengthen the nation’s use of forensic
science by facilitating the development of technically sound standards and
promoting their adoption by the forensic community. All standards on the OSAC Registry have passed a review of
technical merit by forensic practitioners, academic researchers, statisticians,
and measurement scientists.
“Our goal is to improve laboratory operations throughout
the country,” said John Paul Jones II, the OSAC Program Manager at NIST. “Since
there is no forensic science regulatory agency in the U.S., voluntary adoption
is currently the only route to better standardization.”
Beyond the three labs that have publicly announced
voluntary adoption, many OSAC-approved standards are in widespread use, said
Jones. He cited as examples two standards from the National Fire Protection
Association: The Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations and The Standard for Professional Qualifications for Fire Investigator. ASTM seized drug standards are also widely used, he said.
Still, much work remains to be done. Outside of DNA,
there are few discipline-specific forensic science standards that are applied
uniformly across the United States. Instead, the nation’s 400-plus crime labs
follow general laboratory and other standards that may vary from one
jurisdiction to another.
OSAC is helping to fill that gap with uniform,
high-quality standards. The organization’s roughly 560 members have expertise
in 25 specific forensic science disciplines, as well as general expertise in
scientific research, measurement science, statistics, law, and policy. To date,
15 standards have been posted to the OSAC Registry, and more than 200 are in
OSAC was created in 2014 by NIST in partnership with the
Department of Justice. Although NIST provides administrative support to the
organization, most OSAC members work in crime labs, research centers, and other
institutions across the nation.
Rich Press is science writer and public affairs specialist with
the National Institute of Standards and Technology.