Since 2013, NIST has partnered with the U.S. Department of Justice to establish improved, more scientifically rigorous methods for collecting, analyzing, and reporting on forensic evidence. As part of this process, NIST Director Willie May co-chairs the National Commission on Forensic Science, and the NIST Special Programs Office serves as the administrator for the Organization of Scientific Area Committees (OSAC). Established in the last two years by NIST, these committees include more than 600 volunteer members from the forensic science community.
On Jan. 11, 2016, the OSAC Forensic Science Standards Board (FSSB) voted to elevate ASTM Standard E2329-14 "Standard Practice for Identification of Seized Drugs" to the OSAC Registry of Approved Standards. The standard is used by law enforcement agencies as a protocol for testing seized evidence to determine if drugs of abuse such as cocaine or heroin are present. The standard describes a qualitative, pass/fail process whereby evidence either does or does not contain specific substances. This is the first standard posted to the registry.
At the same time, concerns have been raised that some of the language in the standard is not scientifically rigorous. Both NIST and the FSSB have independently asked that ASTM review the language. For example, the standard currently states that "an appropriate analytical scheme effectively results in no uncertainty in reported identifications." NIST recognizes that the scientific community is still working to develop language that completely captures the confidence that should be associated with a qualitative measurement. Nevertheless, based on accepted scientific protocols, no measurement, qualitative or quantitative, should be characterized as without the risk of error or uncertainty. It is important to note that NIST is not contesting results obtained from seized evidence using the standard.
To respond to NIST's concerns, ASTM has listed the standard as "Under Revision," a process likely to take several months. To date, the OSAC has continued to include the standard on its registry. NIST hopes to assist ASTM in strengthening the technical merit of the standard over the coming months. In the meantime, NIST will work with the FSSB and all OSAC groups on process improvements to help ensure consistently high quality scientific reviews of documentary standards that the forensic science community can endorse as trusted, valuable resources.