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Opening Remarks: The Future of OSAC


Thank you to my Department of Justice colleagues for the opportunity to address this distinguished group today. We at NIST are grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this important effort.  I’m hopeful that our contributions to strengthening forensic science can be meaningful and impactful. 

I’ve read the draft of the summary report from the first two terms of the commission, and I am impressed with the accomplishments of this group.  I commend you for your efforts. The report coordinated by Judge Pam King does a nice job of summarizing the work that you have done for the country, while calling out the work that remains to be done.  

Future of the Organization of Scientific Area Committees

My colleagues have addressed the future of the commission—I’d like to address the future of OSAC.

OSAC was conceived under the original 2013 MOU between NIST and DOJ that also established this commission. DOJ also provides funding for OSAC, which is an effort that NIST cannot sustain on its own. The OSAC organization does not have term limits like the commission, but it requires funding to continue. 

From our introduction of OSAC at the first commission meeting, NIST has stressed that the intent was to eventually spin off OSAC. We have termed this envisioned future state of OSAC as OSAC 2.0. 

We have learned a lot from OSAC 1.0 over the past two years of operation. The organization has continued to mature as members of the group come to a better appreciation of the standards development process.  One example of this strengthening was seen in the interest of key researchers and scientists joining the FSSB—such as Commissioners Jim Gates and Jeff Salyards. Thank you for your assistance in strengthening OSAC!

NIST is committed to improving OSAC, including the establishment of a clear model that will support the important goals. We are working to create a stable, sustainable operational model that provides independence from NIST. Internally, a small group at NIST is exploring model concepts for OSAC 2.0. Each of these models are distinct in purpose and operation, yet consistent with the following goals:

  • define structure and authority,
  • engage key stakeholders,
  • provide free access to work products,
  • transition from the current OSAC 1.0, and
  • create the potential for long-term sustainability. 

The three models that we are exploring further involve:

  1. Creating a federal/state partnership that develops codes, standards and model laws,
  2. Restructuring OSAC so that subcommittee functions are dispersed to various SDOs, and the roles of the FSSB and SAC levels changed to focus on Quality/Science and Utility, respectively, and
  3. Establishing a development, testing and evaluation function in coordination with creating forensic standards.

This is just starting, and we will engage the broader community to better understand the strengths and weakness of each of the possible approaches. If you have any questions on our OSAC 2.0 planning, feel free to reach out to Rich Cavanagh, who directs our NIST Special Programs Office.

About NIST Research Efforts in Forensic Science

NIST remains committed to bringing its measurements and standards expertise to challenges in forensics. In fact, we’ve played a role in strengthening forensic science since at least the 1920s. You may have seen a recent National Geographic news article about Wilmer Souder, a physicist from NIST who played a significant role in numerous forensic cases during the 1930s, including the famous Lindbergh baby kidnapping case. 

The current six forensic research focus areas at NIST include:  DNA, digital and fingerprint evidence, ballistics, statistics, toxins and trace evidence. We plan to continue work in these core research areas as funding is available to do so. 

You will see an example of how our core research expertise provides direct benefit to the forensic science community later today when Elham Tabassi, who is from our Information Technology Laboratory, talks with you about “Development of an ISO Standard on Method Validation.”

Technical Merit Review

Let me turn to Technical Merit Review.

This past September the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) recommended an expanded role for NIST in assessing the scientific foundations and maturity of various forensic disciplines. We do recognize the need for, and value of, such studies and are exploring ways to conduct some work in this area. Without the additional funding recommended by PCAST, NIST cannot make any large-scale commitments to extensive technical merit review. 

That said, we are planning an exploratory study to address concerns raised by PCAST regarding complex DNA mixtures. This will likely involve assessing the scientific literature, developing a detailed plan for evaluating scientific validity that would include probabilistic genotyping, and designing one or more interlaboratory studies to measure forensic laboratory performance with DNA interpretation. These interlaboratory studies would build upon previous NIST DNA mixture studies conducted in 2005 and 2013.  NIST has a history of involving external partners in its research and standards efforts, and we anticipate external and international collaboration in this effort.  

Error Management Conference—Registration is Now Open

NIST and the FBI Laboratory are jointly organizing a Second International Symposium on Forensic Science Error Management.  This meeting will be held on the NIST campus in Gaithersburg, Maryland, from July 24 to 28, 2017.

As you can see from the slide before you, there will be four tracks:

  1. Crime Scene - Death Investigation,
  2. Human Factors - Legal Factors,
  3. Quality Assurance - Laboratory Management, and
  4. Criminalistics - Digital Evidence. 

When this meeting was last held two years ago, we had over 100 presentations and more than 400 attendees. In order for us to develop an equally valuable program, we need your presentations and participation. Registration is now open, and we look forward to receiving your abstract, and your participation at this meeting. 

Closing Thoughts

In closing, I want to personally thank you for your efforts on this commission and your commitment to strengthening forensic science through your participation in the activities of this group. Your work has made a difference, and we are grateful for your service to our nation. 

Created April 24, 2017