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NIST Invites Comments on Structure of Forensic Science Guidance Groups

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is seeking input on the structure of guidance groups that would promote scientific validity and reliability in forensic science. NIST is inviting comments on the structure of the groups through a Notice of Inquiry published Sept. 27, 2013, in the Federal Register.

The groups, each focused on a specific forensic science discipline, will develop guidance for forensic science practitioners. The proposed mission of the guidance groups, defined in the notice, "is to support the development and propagation of forensic science consensus documentary standards, monitor research and measurement standards gaps in each forensic discipline, and verify that a sufficient scientific basis exists for each discipline."

NIST is responsible for administering and coordinating support for the guidance groups, as outlined in a February 2013 memorandum of understanding* signed by NIST and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to support and strengthen forensic science in the United States. This effort follows a National Academy of Sciences report** detailing the need to strengthen forensic science.

The guidance groups will replace an existing ad hoc system of scientific working groups that are funded by a variety of agencies and have different sizes, structures and output. The groups' impact within their respective fields also varies. NIST seeks to leverage the best work of the existing working groups to standardize activities and output across disciplines.

"We envision the guidance groups as being voluntary collaborative organizations of forensic science practitioners and researchers from a wide array of disciplines. Members would represent all levels of government, academia, non-profits and industry," said Susan Ballou, NIST program manager for forensic science.

Under the memorandum with DOJ, the guidance developed by the NIST-administered groups would be made publicly available so that forensic science practitioners at the state and local levels could adopt it, and it could be considered by the Attorney General for implementation at federal labs.

NIST is considering several possible models for the groups' structure, but all proposed models should have the following attributes:

  • transparency and openness;
  • balance of interests of stakeholders;
  • due process for stakeholder input;
  • consensus process for decision making; and
  • an appeals process.

The Notice of Inquiry asks for comments and responses to questions within four broad areas: structure of the groups, impact of the groups, representation on the groups and the scope of the groups. The comment period will close on Nov. 12, 2013, 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time.

To read the Notice of Inquiry, visit Questions as well as written comments on the guidance groups may be submitted to Susan Ballou, NIST forensic science program manager. Please send questions or comments by email to susan.ballou [at] (susan[dot]ballou[at]nist[dot]gov) or to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, c/o Susan Ballou, 100 Bureau Drive, Mailstop 8102, Gaithersburg, MD 20899.

**The NAS report is available at
Released September 27, 2013, Updated January 25, 2023