National Academy of Sciences Report
In February 2009, the National Academy of Sciences published Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward, in which recommendations were made to improve the current practices throughout forensic science. Topics include integrated governance, admissibility issues regarding forensic evidence, education and training, Automated Fingerprint Identification System, Homeland Security, methods and practices, and strengthening the oversight of forensic science practices. The oversight of practices looks at accreditation, quality control, proficiency testing, certification, and codes of ethics. The publication states that “a uniform code of ethics should be in place across all forensic organizations to which forensic practitioners and laboratories should adhere” (p. 214). The National Academy of Sciences formally recommends the following:
The National Institute of Forensic Science (NIFS), in consultation with its advisory board, should establish a national code of ethics for all forensic science disciplines and encourage individual societies to incorporate this national code as part of their professional code of ethics. Additionally, NIFS should explore mechanisms of enforcement for those forensic scientists who commit serious ethical violations. Such a code could be enforced through a certification process for forensic scientists. (p. 26)
Based on this recommendation, the forensic science profession could potentially face major changes. Although there are benefits as well as drawbacks to implementing a national, uniform code of ethics, ultimately it will benefit the profession. Such a code could lessen the gray area, while it creates a uniform mechanism with which to arbitrate misconduct.
The other recommendation set forth in the National Academy of Sciences report deals with the management and oversight of crime laboratories. It is recommended that forensic service divisions be removed from the administrative control of police agencies to avoid conflicts of interest and real or perceived bias. The formal recommendation is as follows:
To improve the scientific bases of forensic science examinations and to maximize independence from or autonomy within the law enforcement community, Congress should authorize and appropriate incentive funds to the National Institute of Forensic Science (NIFS) for allocation to state and local jurisdictions for the purpose of removing all public forensic laboratories and facilities from the administrative control of law enforcement agencies or prosecutors’ offices. (p. 17)
The report has the ability to greatly impact the forensic science profession if recommendations are used, and in the years since, the forensic science community has seen steps toward strengthening forensic science, based on the recommendations of the report.
In 2013, the National Commission on Forensic Science (NCFS) was formed as a partnership with the National Institute of Standards and Technology to enhance the practice and improve the reliability of forensic science (https://www.justice.gov/ncfs). The Organization of Scientific Area Committees for Forensic Science is the subdivision within the NCFS that provides standards and guidelines to the field. The mission is to strengthen the professional practice of forensic science.